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The ontogeny of nasal floor shape variation in extant humans



Variation in nasal floor topography has generated both neontological and paleontological interest. Three categories of nasal floor shape (Franciscus: J Hum Evol 44 (2003) 699–727) have been used when analyzing this trait in extant humans and fossil Homo: flat, sloped, and depressed (or “bi-level”). Variation in the frequency of these configurations within and among extant and fossil humans has been well-documented (Franciscus: J Hum Evol 44 (2003) 699–727; Wu et al.: Anthropol Sci 120 (2012) 217–226). However, variation in this trait in Homo has been observed primarily in adults, with comparatively small subadult sample sizes and/or large age gradients that may not sufficiently track key ontogenetic changes. In this study, we investigate the ontogeny of nasal floor shape in a relatively large cross-sectional age sample of extant humans (n = 382) ranging from 4.0 months fetal to 21 years post-natal. Results indicate that no fetal or young infant individuals possess a depressed nasal floor, and that a depressed nasal floor, when present (ca. 21% of the sample), does not occur until 3.0 years postnatal. A canonical variates analysis of maxillary shape revealed that individuals with depressed nasal floors were also characterized by relatively taller anterior alveolar regions. This suggests that palate remodeling at about 3.0–3.5 years after birth, under the influence of tooth development, strongly influences nasal floor variation, and that various aspects of dental development, including larger crown/root size, may contribute to the development of a depressed nasal floor. These results in extant humans may help explain the high frequency of this trait found in Neandertal and other archaic Homo maxillae. Am J Phys Anthropol 155:369–378, 2014. © 2014 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.