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Keywords:

  • functional craniology;
  • middle meningeal artery;
  • endocranial anatomy;
  • neurocranial morphogenesis;
  • paleoneurology

Abstract

The morphogenesis and evolution of the cranium are the result of structural interactions among its components, leading to covariance between traits. Soft and hard tissues exert a reciprocal physical and physiological influence, leading to the final phenotype in terms of both ontogeny and evolution. The middle meningeal vessels, interfacing the brain and the braincase, provide an opportunity to study this network, even in extinct human species. Between and within-species variations of the vascular patterns may be mechanically influenced by the cranial morphology (structural hypothesis) or else by actual physiological responses and adaptations, mostly related to oxygen supply and/or thermoregulation (functional hypothesis). In this analysis, we tested the relationship between neurocranial shape and the general morphology of the traces of the middle meningeal vessels in a modern human population, by using landmark-based geometrical models. Although there are some neurocranial differences between groups with different vascular patterns, they are very small or not statistically significant. Only the depth of the imprints may be more influenced by the endocranial morphology. Even if the neurocranial differences among extinct hominids are definitely larger than those within the modern species, the present analysis suggests that it is unlikely that the differences in vascular patterns among the human species are related only to the effects of different neurocranial geometry. This is rather relevant when the marked development of the meningeal network in Homo sapiens is taken into account, compared with the patterns described for nonmodern human species. Anat Rec, 2009. © 2009 Wiley-Liss, Inc.