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Effect of bite force and diet composition on craniofacial diversification of Southern South American human populations



Ecological factors can be important to shape the patterns of morphological variation among human populations. Particularly, diet plays a fundamental role in craniofacial variation due to both the effect of the nutritional status—mostly dependent on the type and amount of nutrients consumed—on skeletal growth and the localized effects of masticatory forces. We examine these two dimensions of diet and evaluate their influence on morphological diversification of human populations from southern South America during the late Holocene. Cranial morphology was measured as 3D coordinates defining the face, base and vault. Size, form, and shape variables were obtained for 474 adult individuals coming from 12 samples. Diet composition was inferred from carious lesions and δ13C data, whereas bite forces were estimated using traits of main jaw muscles. The spatial structure of the morphological and ecological variables was measured using correlograms. The influence of diet composition and bite force on morphometric variation was estimated by a spatial regression model. Cranial variation and diet composition display a geographical structure, while no geographical pattern was observed in bite forces. Cranial variation in size and form is significantly associated with diet composition, suggesting a strong effect of systemic factors on cranial growth. Conversely, bite forces do not contribute significantly to the pattern of morphological variation among the samples analyzed. Overall, these results show that an association between diet composition and hardness cannot be assumed, and highlight the complex relationship between morphological diversification and diet in human populations. Am J Phys Anthropol 155:114–127, 2014. © 2014 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

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