In this paper, we examine the relationship between the classical concepts of heterotopy, heterochrony and ontogenetic allometry as descriptive and as explanatory categories in the investigation of evolutionary developmental novelty in the hominid skull. We use concepts of kinematic analysis of locomotion to propose a methodological framework for the kinematic analysis of cranial form change during ontogeny. We argue that a combination of geometric-morphometric methods with graphics visualization tools currently represents the most adequate means to analyze the kinematics of ontogeny. Using cranial growth models, we simulate how evolutionary modifications of developmental processes impinge on morphological patterns of ontogeny, and explore how differences in ontogenetic patterns can tentatively be traced back to underlying process differences. Our analyses indicate that minor alterations in growth parameters elicit complex patterns of ontogenetic modification that are difficult to describe with the standard repertoire of heterochronic terminology. The proposed kinematic and model-based approach is used in a comparative analysis of cranial ontogeny in Neanderthals and anatomically modern humans, indicating that early ontogenetic modification of a small set of growth parameters is a major source of evolutionary novelty during hominid evolution. J. Exp. Zool. (Mol. Dev. Evol.) 302B:322-340, 2004. © 2004 Wiley-Liss, Inc.