Kinematic data on primate head and neck posture: implications for the evolution of basicranial flexion and an evaluation of registration planes used in paleoanthropology

Am J Phys Anthropol. 1999 Feb;108(2):205-22. doi: 10.1002/(SICI)1096-8644(199902)108:2<205::AID-AJPA6>3.0.CO;2-F.


Kinematic data on primate head and neck posture were collected by filming 29 primate species during locomotion. These were used to test whether head and neck posture are significant influences on basicranial flexion and whether the Frankfurt plane can legitimately be employed in paleoanthropological studies. Three kinematic measurements were recorded as angles relative to the gravity vector, the inclination of the orbital plane, the inclination of the neck, and the inclination of the Frankfurt plane. A fourth kinematic measurement was calculated as the angle between the neck and the orbital plane (the head-neck angle [HNA]). The functional relationships of basicranial flexion were examined by calculating the correlations and partial correlations between HNA and craniometric measurements representing basicranial flexion, orbital kyphosis, and relative brain size (Ross and Ravosa [1993] Am. J. Phys. Anthropol. 91:305-324). Significant partial correlations were observed between relative brain size and basicranial flexion and between HNA and orbital kyphosis. This indicates that brain size, rather than head and neck posture, is the primary influence on flexion, while the degree of orbital kyphosis may act to reorient the visual field in response to variation in head and neck posture. Regarding registration planes, the Frankfurt plane was found to be horizontal in humans but inclined in all nonhuman primates. In contrast, nearly all primates (including humans) oriented their orbits such that they faced anteriorly and slightly inferiorly. These results suggest that for certain functional craniometric studies, the orbital plane may be a more suitable registration plane than Frankfurt "Horizontal."

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anthropology, Physical
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Brain / anatomy & histology*
  • Fossils
  • Head
  • Humans
  • Locomotion*
  • Movement
  • Neck
  • Posture*
  • Primates*