• early ontogeny;
  • modern humans;
  • muscles;
  • symphyseal mental region;
  • teeth


The ontogenetic development of the mental region still poses a number of unresolved questions in human growth, development and phylogeny. In our study we examine the hypotheses of DuBrul & Sicher (1954) (The Adaptive Chin. Springfield, IL: Charles) and Enlow (1990) (Facial Growth, 3rd edn. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders) to explain the presence of a prominent mental region in anatomically modern humans. In particular, we test whether the prominence of the mental region and the positioning of the teeth are both correlated with the developmental relocation of the tongue and the suprahyoid muscles inserting at the lingual side of the symphysis. Furthermore, we test whether the development of the mental region is associated with the development of the back of the vocal tract. Using geometric morphometric methods, we measured the 3D mandibular and tooth surfaces in a cross-sectional sample of 36 CT-scanned living humans, incorporating the positions of the tongue and the geniohyoid and digastric muscle insertions. The specimens' ages range from birth to the complete emergence of the deciduous dentition. We used multivariate regression and two-block partial least squares (PLS) analysis to study the covariation among the mental region, the muscle insertions, and the teeth both across and within age stages. In order to confirm our results from the 3D cross-sectional sample, and to relate them to facial growth and the position of the cervical column and the hyoid bone, we used 46 lateral radiographs of eight children from the longitudinal Denver Growth Study. The 3D analysis demonstrates that the lingual side of the lower border of the symphysis develops downwards and forwards. These shape changes are significantly correlated with the relocation of muscle insertion sites and also with the vertical reorientation of the anterior teeth prior to emergence. The 2D analysis confirms the idea that as the mental region prominence develops, the space of the laryngopharynx becomes restricted due to upper mid-face retraction and the acquisition of upright body posture. In agreement with the hypotheses of DuBrul & Sicher (1954) and Enlow (1990), our results suggest that the presence of a prominent mental region responds to the space restriction at the back of the vocal tract, and to the packaging of the tongue and suprahyoid muscles in order to preserve the functionality of the laryngopharynx during respiration, feeding and speech.