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J Anat. 2002 Sep;201(3):211-29.

A geometric morphometric study of regional differences in the ontogeny of the modern human facial skeleton.

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Department of Anthropology, University of Durham, UK.


This study examines interpopulation variations in the facial skeleton of 10 modern human populations and places these in an ontogenetic perspective. It aims to establish the extent to which the distinctive features of adult representatives of these populations are present in the early post natal period and to what extent population differences in ontogenetic scaling and allometric trajectories contribute to distinct facial forms. The analyses utilize configurations of facial landmarks and are carried out using geometric morphometric methods. The results of this study show that modern human populations can be distinguished based on facial shape alone, irrespective of age or sex, indicating the early presence of differences. Additionally, some populations have statistically distinct facial ontogenetic trajectories that lead to the development of further differences later in ontogeny. We conclude that population-specific facial morphologies develop principally through distinctions in facial shape probably already present at birth and further accentuated and modified to variable degrees during growth. These findings raise interesting questions regarding the plasticity of facial growth patterns in modern humans. Further, they have important implications in relation to the study of growth in the face of fossil hominins and in relation to the possibility of developing effective discriminant functions for the identification of population affinities of immature facial skeletal material. Such tools would be of value in archaeological, forensic and anthropological applications. The findings of this study underline the need to examine more deeply, and in more detail, the ontogenetic basis of other causes of craniometric variation, such as sexual dimorphism and hominin species differentiation.

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