Basicranial flexion, relative brain size, and facial kyphosis in nonhuman primates

Am J Phys Anthropol. 1993 Jul;91(3):305-24. doi: 10.1002/ajpa.1330910306.


Numerous hypotheses explaining interspecific differences in the degree of basicranial flexion have been presented. Several authors have argued that an increase in relative brain size results in a spatial packing problem that is resolved by flexing the basicranium. Others attribute differences in the degree of basicranial flexion to different postural behaviors, suggesting that more orthograde animals require a ventrally flexed pre-sella basicranium in order to maintain the eyes in a correct forward-facing orientation. Less specific claims are made for a relationship between the degree of basicranial flexion and facial orientation. In order to evaluate these hypotheses, the degree of basicranial flexion (cranial base angle), palate orientation, and orbital axis orientation were measured from lateral radiographs of 68 primate species and combined with linear and volumetric measures as well as data on the size of the neocortex and telencephalon. Bivariate correlation and partial correlation analyses at several taxonomic levels revealed that, within haplorhines, the cranial base angle decreases with increasing neurocranial volume relative to basicranial length and is positively correlated with angles of facial kyphosis and orbital axis orientation. Strepsirhines show no significant correlations between the cranial base angle and any of the variables examined. It is argued that prior orbital approximation in the ancestral haplorhine integrated the medial orbital walls and pre-sella basicranium into a single structural network such that changes in the orientation of one necessarily affect the other. Gould's ("Ontogeny and Phylogeny." Cambridge: Belknap Press, 1977) hypothesis, that the highly flexed basicranium of Homo may be due to a combination of a large brain and a relatively short basicranium, is corroborated.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / anatomy & histology*
  • Cephalometry / methods
  • Cephalometry / veterinary
  • Face / anatomy & histology
  • Female
  • Male
  • Posture / physiology*
  • Primates / anatomy & histology*
  • Radiography
  • Skull / anatomy & histology*
  • Skull / diagnostic imaging