The enduring puzzle of the human chin

Evol Anthropol. Jan-Feb 2016;25(1):20-35. doi: 10.1002/evan.21471.


Although modern humans are considered to be morphologically distinct from other living primates because of our large brains, dexterous hands, and bipedal gait, all of these features are found among extinct hominins. The chin, however, appears to be a uniquely modern human trait. Probably because of the chin's exclusivity, many evolutionary scenarios have been proposed to explain its origins. To date, researchers have developed adaptive hypotheses relating chins to speech, mastication, and sexual selection; still others see it as a structural artifact tangentially related to complex processes involving evolutionary retraction of the midfacial skeleton. Consensus has remained elusive, partly because hypotheses purporting to explain how this feature developed uniquely in modern humans are all fraught with theoretical and/or empirical shortcomings. Here we review a century's worth of chin hypotheses and discuss future research avenues that may provide greater insight into this human peculiarity.

Keywords: adaptation; hypofunction; mastication; sexual selection; spandrel; speech.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Anthropology, Physical
  • Chin / anatomy & histology*
  • Chin / physiology*
  • Female
  • Hominidae / anatomy & histology*
  • Hominidae / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Marriage
  • Neanderthals / anatomy & histology
  • Neanderthals / physiology
  • Speech