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J Hum Evol. 2004 Nov;47(5):279-303.

Geometric morphometrics and paleoneurology: brain shape evolution in the genus Homo.

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Dipartimento di Biologia Animale e dell'Uomo, Università La Sapienza, P.le A. Moro 5, 00185 Roma, Italy.


Paleoneurology concerns the study and analysis of fossil endocasts. Together with cranial capacity and discrete anatomical features, shape can be analysed to consider the spatial relationships between structures and to investigate the endocranial structural system. A sample of endocasts from fossil specimens of the genus Homo has been analysed using traditional metrics and 2D geometric morphometrics based on lateral projections of endocranial shape. The maximum and frontal widths show a size-related pattern of variation shared by all the taxa considered. Furthermore, as cranial capacity increases in the non-modern morphotypes there is a general endocranial vertical stretching (mainly centred at the anterior ascending circumvolution) with flattening and relative shortening of the parietal areas. This pattern could have involved some structural stress between brain development and vault bones at the parietal midsagittal profile in the heavy encephalised Neandertals. In contrast, modern humans show a species-specific neomorphic hypertrophy of the parietal volumes, leading to a dorsal growth and ventral flexion (convolution) and consequent globularity of the whole structure. Brain tensors such as the falx cerebri have been hypothesised to represent one of the main physical constraints on morphogenetic trajectories, with additional influences from cranial base structures. The neurofunctional inferences discussed here stress the role of the parietal areas in the visuo-spatial coordination and integration, which can be involved in higher cerebral functions and related to conceptual thinking.

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