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Am J Phys Anthropol. 1996 Oct;101(2):217-36.

How and why humans grow thin skulls: experimental evidence for systemic cortical robusticity.

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Department of Anthropology, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey 08903-0270, USA.


To what extent is cranial vault thickness (CVT) a character that is strongly linked to the genome, or to what extent does it reflect the activity of an individual prior to skeletal maturity? Experimental data from pigs and armadillos indicate that CVT increases more rapidly in exercised juveniles than in genetically similar controls, despite the low levels of strain generated by chewing or locomotion in the neurocranium. CVT increases in these individuals appear to be a consequence of systemic cortical bone growth induced by exercise. In addition, an analysis of the variability in vault thickness in the genus Homo demonstrates that, until the Holocene, there has been only a slight, general decrease in vault thickness over time with no consistent significant differences between archaic and early anatomically modern humans from the Late Pleistocene. Although there may be some genetic component to variation in CVT, exercise-related, non-genetically heritable stimuli appear to account for most of the variance between individuals. The thick cranial vaults of most hunter-gatherers and early agriculturalists suggests that they may have experienced higher levels of sustained exercise relative to body mass than the majority of recent, post-industrial humans.

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