The primate cranial base: ontogeny, function, and integration

Am J Phys Anthropol. 2000;Suppl 31:117-69. doi: 10.1002/1096-8644(2000)43:31+<117::aid-ajpa5>;2-9.


Understanding the complexities of cranial base development, function, and architecture is important for testing hypotheses about many aspects of craniofacial variation and evolution. We summarize key aspects of cranial base growth and development in primates that are useful for formulating and testing hypotheses about the roles of the chondrocranium and basicranium in cranial growth, integration, and function in primate and human evolution. We review interspecific, experimental, and ontogenetic evidence for interactions between the cranial base and brain, and between the cranial base and the face. These interactions indicate that the cranial base plays a key role in craniofacial growth, helping to integrate, spatially and functionally, different patterns of growth in various adjoining regions of the skull such as components of the brain, the eyes, the nasal cavity, the oral cavity, and the pharynx. Brain size relative to cranial base length appears to be the dominant influence on many aspects of basicranial variation, especially the angle of the cranial base in the midsagittal plane, but other factors such as facial size, facial orientation, and posture may also be important. Major changes in cranial base shape appear to have played crucial roles in the evolution of early primates, the origin of anthropoids, and the origin of Homo sapiens.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Brain / anatomy & histology
  • Face / anatomy & histology
  • Hominidae
  • Humans
  • Primates*
  • Skull Base / anatomy & histology*