Category Archives: Skull

Modelling Skull Growth

The Finite Element (FE) method has increasing application to biological sciences but frequently lacks proper validation by robust experimental research. One aspect of particular biological and bio-mechanical importance is growth of the human infant skull. Specific local changes during growth of the infant skull are largely unknown with only the general rate of cranial increase from 25% at birth to 65% of the adult size by age six. The potential adverse effects of any abnormalities in infant skull growth is difficult to approximate if the isolated local areas likely to be most impacted are not accurately known. If properly validated, computer simulated modelling such as Finite Element methods would be invaluable in surgical settings. A new comprehensive study focusing on human infant cranial vault expansion utilized robust laboratory experiments of a fetal skull (ex-vivo), replicate physical model (in-vitro), several FE models (in-silico) and a sample of micro-CT infant skulls (in-vivo). The first validation tested a physical model against a FE model (A) in which the cranial base and facial bones formed a single structure with only the cranial vault comprising individual bones. The FE model (A) over-predicted size changes to the anterior of the skull especially near the orbits and mediolateral expansion of the skull. The second validation tested in-vivo models against an FE model (B) in which the only the facial bones formed a single structure while the vault and cranial base comprised individual bones. All analyses associated discrepancy between the FE model (B) and the in-vivo models with age-related changes. As age increased, the regions under-predicted by the FE model (B) were first the orbits and upper vault before tending toward the cranial base, while the regions over-predicted by the FE model (B) were focused on the anterior and posterior fontanelles.

This validation study showed that FE modelling could be used to approximate growth in the human skull with only small discrepancies. The differences between the predicted ranges of growth (FE models) and the observed growth (in-vivo models) was explained by assumption of isotropic brain expansion which simplified the highly complex and uneven growth rates in real brain expansion. The artificial construction of a single structure representing the facial bones added further constraints. The development of more advanced simulations could narrow the discrepancy between expected and observed growth patterns allowing a more accurate representation of human skull growth.

Alannah Pearson



Amazing document!
A cyclop’s skull …

(a new species? cyclopism? what about hybrids!?)



Selective brain cooling in modern humans

The human brain is the most expensive and costly organ in terms of energetic resources and management. However, the current understanding of its sophisticated thermal control mechanisms remains insufficient. Wang et al., 2016, have reviewed the most recent studies on brain thermoregulation and examined the anatomical and physiological elements associated with selective brain cooling. Modern humans have a brain that is approximately three times larger than a primate with a similar body size, which uses 20%– 25% of the total body energy compared with a maximum of 10% in other primates and 5% in other mammals. The evolution of a large and expensive brain in modern humans effectively influences critical factors such as temperature, and functional limits can affect cerebral complexity and neural processes. Brain thermoregulation depends on many anatomical components and physiological processes, and it is sensitive to various behavioral and pathological factors, which have specific relevance for clinical applications and human evolution. The anatomical structures protecting the brain, such as the human calvaria, the scalp, and the endocranial vascular system, act as a thermal interface, which collectively maintains and shield the brain from heat challenges, and preserves a stable equilibrium between heat production and dissipation. Future advances in biomedical imaging techniques would allow a better understanding of the physiological and anatomical responses related to the cerebral heat management and brain temperature in modern humans.

Gizéh Rangel de Lázaro


Base and vault

A study on covariation between parietal bone and endocranial base …

[post]    [paper]

Craniovascular traits

This month we have published a review on craniovascular traits and anthropology, freely available to download from the Journal of Anthropological Sciences. The article describes many vascular traits that can be analyzed on skulls, through the traces they leave on the bone surface or within the bone itself. The traces of the middle meningeal vessels, the traces of the venous sinuses, the diploic channels, and the endocranial foramina, can provide information on the vascular networks and, indirectly, on the physiological processes associated with their growth and development. The functional information available from these imprints is partial and incomplete, but it is the only one we have on blood flow when dealing with fossils, archaeological remains, or forensic cases. Methods are an issue, because of the difficulties with small samples, scoring procedure, statistics of ordinal and nominal variables, and with an intrinsic limitation in current anatomy: we still ignore the variations and processes behind many macroanatomical features, even in our own species. Previous articles on this topic deal with middle meningeal artery, vessels and thermoregulation, diploic channels, and parietal bone vascularization. Most of these papers are part of a project funded by the Wenner-Gren Foundation through an International Collaborative Research Grant, entitled “Cranial anatomy, anthropology, and the vascular system”. This beautiful drawing of a sectioned skull is by Eduardo Saiz.

Seasonal skull reduction

dechmann-et-al-2017Braincase shrinkage during winter was firstly described in shrews by Dehnel in 1949, and is known as the Dehnel’s Phenomenon. Recently, Dechmann et al. investigated the seasonal size variation in the skulls of shrews (Sorex araneus) and least weasels (Mustela nivalis). They measured skull length and braincase depth on specimens previously collected from a Polish National Park, sampling all seasons. Both species showed an initial juvenile growth until the first winter, followed by shrinkage until spring in the adults, and a subsequent re-grow on the second summer, though never reaching the initial size. Heat maps built from high resolution CT scans demonstrated that size changes also involved changes in shape and in bone thickness, with the thinnest skulls coinciding with the smallest braincase size. Interestingly, these patterns differed between sexes, especially in weasels as only males were observed to re-grow. Despite phylogenetically distant, both species have similar life histories, having short life spans and high metabolisms, and inhabiting an environment with seasonal fluctuation of resources availability. Winter shrinkage would reduce energetic requirements and prepare individuals for the harder conditions, and re-growth during the resources-abundant season would prepare the males for reproduction while females would allocate the energy into caring for the offspring.  The authors conclude these seasonal reversible size changes are genetically fixed and exclusive of animals with such life histories, as an adaptation to extreme environmental conditions. Future investigation shall clarify the potential drivers and consequences of this phenomenon, including how the variation in size affects brain size and reorganization.

Sofia Pedro

FEA, Validity & Sensitivity

fea-validity-smlThe Finite Element Method (FEM) was developed within the framework of Engineering but has become a popular tool in bio-mechanical studies. It is natural that computational bio-mechanics and Finite Element Analysis (FEA) became increasingly promising in fossil studies where there are no examples of some taxa still living. To study the bio-mechanical responses of fossil hominids, modern humans and non-human primates are often used as comparative samples for which there are already known values. Despite this, precisely how accurately computational bio-mechanics compares with physical studies is still not well understood. The biological composition of bone and dentition is hard to replicate in computational terms with the cranium a mixture of trabecular and cortical bone while teeth comprise variable layers of enamel and dentine. The resolution required from Computed Tomography (CT) scans to accurately capture these finer biological compositions is not feasible for the heavy demands on software to analyze such FEA models with flow-effects for the number of specimens that can be included into any single study.

Godinho et al investigated the validity and sensitivity of Finite Element (FE) models using a direct comparison with a human cadaver. Results were particularly affected if the model was simplified by assigning all materials as cortical bone, including dentition and trabecular bone components. Results showed that the real and virtual skull showed no differences in strain magnitude; differences in strain pattern (high or low strain distribution) were only partially different; simplifying the virtual model decreased the strain magnitude; simplifying the virtual model partially affected the strain pattern with the regions near the dentition, particularly the alveolar ridge, most affected.

For bio-mechanical studies, by not simplifying virtual models and attempting to designate dental and bone tissues properly acknowledges the underpinning biology of the cranium while potentially revealing sensitive adaptations of this biological structure. By adopting these changes, new variations between living and fossil humans, that have so-far been obscured by less time-consuming computational methods, could reveal unique adaptational trends that have real significance for human evolution.

Alannah Pearson

A frontal sphere

bulut-et-al-2016So far, the majority of new quantitative methods and approaches to investigate sexual dimorphism have focused primarily on the morphology of the five most commonly studied sexually dimorphic traits of the skull (glabella, orbital margins, mastoid process, nuchal crest, and mental eminence), while other cranial traits are still being evaluated in terms of simple subjective descriptions. One of the cranial regions showing great potential for further development of sex estimation techniques is the frontal region. Recently, Bulut and colleagues quantified the shape differences between male and female frontal bones using a novel and landmark-free 3D modeling method. Their new finding that the male frontal bone is actually more spherical than the female is in opposition to the common perception. In their study, CT scans of 80 male and 80 female Caucasian frontal bones from a Turkish population between the age of 25 and 40 years were obtained. The frontal bone was isolated by carrying out the “selection tool” in the GOM Inspect software using STL models. The frontal bone model is aligned to the CAD sphere model, using the best-fit registration method in the GOM Inspect software. Next, the difference in surface morphology between the frontal bone data and the CAD sphere was quantified, using the sphere model as the reference surface. Also, color maps were generated to show the deviations between frontal bone surface and the CAD sphere surface. Deviations of ±1mm were calculated as the overlapping areas. Color maps show that, for males, the areas exhibiting the largest discrepancy between frontal bone and CAD sphere surface are glabella, the supraorbital margins, the zygomatic processes, the superciliary arc, and the temporal face.

The area displaying most overlap with the sphere is the upper frontal region, including the frontal squama and the frontal eminences. For females, the frontal squama showed the main congruence with the sphere surface, while the largest deviations were observed for glabella, the supraorbital margins, the zygomatic processes, the superciliary arch, the frontal eminences, and the temporal face. The amount of frontal bone overlapping with the sphere was found to range from 30.1% to 56.1% for males, and from 19.6% to 48.3% for females. The difference in average values between males (43.2 ± 6.5%) and females (33.9 ± 6.6%) was found to be statistically significant, i.e. p < 0.0001, using the double-sided version of student’s t-test. This finding is in opposition to the common perception that the male frontal bone is more inclined than the female, which is described as more vertical and rounded, convex, smooth, and broad. Using the overlapping surface parameter to develop linear discriminant functions, sex was accurately predicted for 61 of 80 females (76.3%) and 63 of 80 males (78.8%) after leave-one-out cross-validation, yielding an average of 77.5% correct classifications.

Yameng Zhang

Sexual identification

post1Sex assessment is crucial in any survey on human remains.  Musilová et al, have recently published a new method for sexual identification using virtual scans of both male and female individuals. They found that the size of the cranial surface was significantly different between both sexes, being the male skulls larger than the females in some areas, such as the nasal root, external occipital protuberance and mastoids. The most pronounced areas with sexual cranial differences are those linked to muscle attachment, such as supraorbital, frontal and nuchal regions. Sexual dimorphism was significantly lower in senile skulls. This article provides a new and successful method using 3D techniques and geometric morphometrics, interesting for different applications in anthropology.

Gizéh Rangel de Lázaro

Face and cranial base

neauxDimitri Neaux and colleagues have published a series of comprehensive analyses on the influence of the cranial base in facial morphology of humans and apes. In one of the papers, they assessed the integration between the face and the two basicranial modules: the sagittal and the lateral cranial base. They tested the covariation between the three sets of 3D landmarks (face vs. midline base and face vs. lateral base) on modern humans and chimpanzees, separately. Only the correlation between the face and the lateral cranial base was significant, confirming the important role of the lateral cranial base in facial morphology. Though the levels of covariation were comparable, the patterns differed between the two species, as taller faces were associated with wider and shorter cranial fossae in chimps and with longer and narrower cranial fossae in humans. In another article, they assessed the relationship between cranial base flexion, facial orientation, and facial shape in modern humans, chimpanzees, and gorillas. Using 3D landmark analysis, they evaluated the within-species patterns of covariation, confirming the intraspecific relationship between facial structures and base flexion. Base flexion is associated with downward rotation of the facial block in both humans and chimps (confirming previous works) but not in gorillas. On the other hand, an upward rotation of the facial block is associated with anterior face vertical elongation on the three species. In humans, facial elongation is also associated with base flexion, which might have been selected during evolution to match the elongation of the nasomaxillary complex, as proposed before. The authors further tested whether increased base flexion is associated with the shortening of the facial length or with the decrease of facial projection. The relationship between base flexion and facial length was only observed in chimps, while facial projection was not related with cranial base flexion in chimpanzees and gorillas. In humans, contrary to what was expected, basicranial flexion was associated with increasing facial projection, which the authors attribute to sexual dimorphism, as males have increased base flexion and facial projection. Again, the main patterns of correlation differed between the species. Cranial base angle is negatively correlated with facial projection in modern humans, with facial length in chimps, and with the angle between the posterior-maxillary plane and the anterior facial plane in gorillas. As the authors conclude, these differences in the patterns of integration might reflect changes in the structural relationships between the face and the cranial base during hominoid evolution.

Sofia Pedro