Comparison of cranial ontogenetic trajectories among great apes and humans

J Hum Evol. 2004 Jun;46(6):679-97. doi: 10.1016/j.jhevol.2004.03.006.


Molecular data suggest that humans are more closely related to chimpanzees than either is to the gorillas, yet one finds the closest similarity in craniofacial morphology to be among the great apes to the exclusion of humans. To clarify how and when these differences arise in ontogeny, we studied ontogenetic trajectories for Homo sapiens, Pan paniscus, Pan troglodytes, Gorilla gorilla and Pongo pygmaeus. A total of 96 traditional three-dimensional landmarks and semilandmarks on the face and cranial base were collected on 268 adult and sub-adult crania for a geometric morphometric analysis. The ontogenetic trajectories are compared by various techniques, including a new method, relative warps in size-shape space. We find that adult Homo sapiens specimens are clearly separated from the great apes in shape space and size-shape space. Around birth, Homo sapiens infants are already markedly different from the great apes, which overlap at this age but diverge among themselves postnatally. The results suggest that the small genetic differences between Homo and Pan affect early human ontogeny to induce the distinct adult human craniofacial morphology. Pure heterochrony does not sufficiently explain the human craniofacial morphology nor the differences among the African apes.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Anthropometry / methods
  • Child
  • Female
  • Gorilla gorilla / anatomy & histology
  • Gorilla gorilla / growth & development
  • Hominidae / anatomy & histology*
  • Hominidae / growth & development*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Pan paniscus / anatomy & histology
  • Pan paniscus / growth & development
  • Pan troglodytes / anatomy & histology
  • Pan troglodytes / growth & development
  • Pongo pygmaeus / anatomy & histology
  • Pongo pygmaeus / growth & development
  • Skull / anatomy & histology*
  • Skull / growth & development*