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Am J Phys Anthropol. 1991 Sep;86(1):1-36.

Masticatory-stress hypotheses and the supraorbital region of primates.

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Department of Biological Anthropology and Anatomy, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina 27710.


The purpose of this study is to test various masticatory-stress hypotheses about the evolution and function of well-developed browridges of higher primates. This was done by measuring and analyzing patterns of in vivo bone strain recorded from three-element rosette strain gages bonded to the supraorbital region and to other portions of the bony face of Macaca fascicularis and Papio anubis during mastication and incision. The magnitude and direction of the principal strains recorded support Endo's hypothesis that the supraorbital region during mastication and incision is bent in the frontal plane (Endo, 1966). Our data do not, however, support his hypothesis that the supraorbital region is bent more during incision than during mastication. The data also demonstrate that overall levels of supraorbital strain are not larger in more prognathic subjects. Most importantly, the data indicate that the supraorbital region of nonhuman catarrhines is strained very little during mastication and incision. This indicates that there is much more supraorbital bone than is necessary both to counter masticatory loads and to provide an adequate safety factor to failure for these loads. This in turn suggests that the macaque and baboon browridges can be considerably reduced in size and still maintain these required structural characteristics. Thus, our experiments provide no support whatsoever for those hypotheses that directly link browridge morphology to masticatory stress (cf. Endo, 1966; Russell, 1983, 1985). A recent review of Endo's original work indicates that this latter statement is also true for humans (Picq and Hylander, 1989). We conclude, therefore, that there is no good reason to believe that enlarged browridges in living and/or fossil primates are structural adaptations to counter intense masticatory forces. The evolution of browridge morphology in primates is best explained on the basis of factors related to the position of the brain relative to the orbits (Moss and Young, 1960). When these structures are widely separated, as in gorillas, the large intervening space must be bridged with bone. In addition, enough bone must be present within the supraorbital and bridged regions to prevent structural failure due to non-masticatory external forces associated with highly active primates (e.g., accidental traumatic forces applied to the orbits and neurocranium). This requirement results in both pronounced browridges and in much more supraorbital bone than is necessary to counter routine cyclical stress during mastication and incision. This in turn explains why bone strains recorded from the supraorbital region are extremely small relative to other portions of the primate face during mastication and incision.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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