Tag Archives: Human evolution

Human craniofacial evolution

In evolutionary biology, microevolution and macroevolution impact on the variation and covariation between genotype and phenotype. A related concept is the biological ability of an organism to adapt and evolve, or its evolvability, which is of keen interest to evolutionary biologists. The quantification of genetic change is analysed via the genetic variance-covariance matrix (G-matrix) while phenotypic change is analysed via the phenotypic variance-covariance (P-Matrix). Under the assumption of a neutral evolutionary model with the absence of genetic drift, the G-matrix should be proportional to a P-matrix. Although there is potential for theoretical complications arising from organisms with higher evolvability biasing the rates of evolutionary change, this is not fully investigated and seems to warrant further empirical studies.

The diversity of craniofacial form observed in fossil species of genus Homo and modern humans has been examined in terms of craniofacial adaptation to various biomechanical and environmental stressors. The absence of recovered genomes from species of fossil Homo beyond Homo neanderthalensis and fossil Homo sapiens has required studies of fossil human phylogenetics to rely on high uncertainties in the estimation of fossil hominin phylogeny and further restricted by small sample sizes.

In a recent study, Baab (2018) used the rate of evolutionary change in populations of modern Homo sapiens to estimate evolutionary rates in species of fossil Homo, analyzing craniofacial shape change, diversification and evolvability in the genus Homo. Results were consistent with independent conclusions that a neutral evolutionary model was adequate to generate the diversity in craniofacial form observed in the genus Homo. Once accounting for the small fossil sample size and the degree of evolutionary rate being higher than chance, there was no statistically significant support for higher rates of evolvability generating more rapid rates of evolutionary change across the entire genus Homo.

In contrast, the more recent lineages showed some evidence for selection acting at a greater magnitude in H. neanderthalensis and early H. sapiens, generating a more rapid rate of evolutionary change.  Baab (2018) suggests brain expansion may be a likely contributor influencing the more rapid evolutionary rate change in craniofacial shape as observed in early H. sapiens and H. neanderthalensis and why only the more recent lineages of the genus Homo were affected by such rapid changes in craniofacial form.

Alannah Pearson



A new human species

Untitled-3Berger et al., 2015 recently reported a new species called Homo naledi, found at the Dinaledi Chamber in the Rising Star cave system in South Africa. This species present a mosaic of several anatomical features from Australopithecus and Homo species. The fossil remains correspond to 15 individuals from the same species. The age of the fossils remain unclear. The researchers presented a detailed comparative analysis between H. naledi and other species. They affirm that the overall morphology of H. naledi is more close to humans than to australopiths. The cranium lacks primitive features like well developed sagittal and nuchal crests. In this sense, H. naledi cranial morphology is more similar to other extinct human species that lived between four million and two million years ago, namely H. erectus, H. habilis, and H. rudolfensis. Homo skull traits include frontal and parietal bossing, cranial bones relatively thin (like H. habilis), flexed occipital and transverse torus (like H. erectus), the supraorbital torus well developed and weakly arched (as H. erectus and H. habilis)  and gracile mandible; as well as their body mass and stature, are consistent with small bodied human populations, namely the lower limb, the foot and the ankle. However, Homo naledi fossils, presents some australopith-like characters as small endocranial volume (560-465 cc) and the morphology of the postcranial skeleton (trunk, shoulder, pelvis and proximal femur). Berger et al., suggest that the combination of different features presented in H. naledi is the result of a complex, and probably, polyphyletic process of different species that evolved separately in Africa.

Gizéh Rangel de Lázaro

None of your neurons …


The Olduvai Gorge is an excellent tumblr on human evolution by images: none of your neurons know who you are! Great information and amazing graphics, science and art, paleontology and archaeology, anatomy and phylogeny, stones and primates, good ideas and updated publications, have a look at the archives. From now on, you can find it in our sidebar …