Relationship of cranial robusticity to cranial form, geography and climate in Homo sapiens

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Abstract

Variation in cranial robusticity among modern human populations is widely acknowledged but not well-understood. While the use of “robust” cranial traits in hominin systematics and phylogeny suggests that these characters are strongly heritable, this hypothesis has not been tested. Alternatively, cranial robusticity may be a response to differences in diet/mastication or it may be an adaptation to cold, harsh environments. This study quantifies the distribution of cranial robusticity in 14 geographically widespread human populations, and correlates this variation with climatic variables, neutral genetic distances, cranial size, and cranial shape. With the exception of the occipital torus region, all traits were positively correlated with each other, suggesting that they should not be treated as individual characters. While males are more robust than females within each of the populations, among the independent variables (cranial shape, size, climate, and neutral genetic distances), only shape is significantly correlated with inter-population differences in robusticity. Two-block partial least-squares analysis was used to explore the relationship between cranial shape (captured by three-dimensional landmark data) and robusticity across individuals. Weak support was found for the hypothesis that robusticity was related to mastication as the shape associated with greater robusticity was similar to that described for groups that ate harder-to-process diets. Specifically, crania with more prognathic faces, expanded glabellar and occipital regions, and (slightly) longer skulls were more robust than those with rounder vaults and more orthognathic faces. However, groups with more mechanically demanding diets (hunter-gatherers) were not always more robust than groups practicing some form of agriculture. Am J Phys Anthropol, 2010. © 2009 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

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