The cranial functional axis

Pereira Pedro and Bruner J Anat 2021

The head is a complex biomechanical system, formed by a delicate network of soft and hard tissues. Furthermore, its functional and structural relationships extend to the whole body, influencing crucial adaptations ranging from breathing to locomotion. Modern humans are characterized by large parietal bones, at least in part associated with the enlargement of the parietal cortex. Such parietal expansion tilts the orientation of the brain that, in turn, is expected to influence the orientation of the head. In a new geometric morphometric analysis, we investigate the relationships between frontal bone, parietal bone, orbits and cranial base, in a sample of adult modern humans, to test whether and how the size of the parietal region is correlated with the morphological features of the orbital block. Results suggest that the dimension of the parietal bone exerts an influence on the orientation and rotation of the orbital region, but not on its form. In this case, we should hence consider the conceptual and evolutionary differences between a strict morphological integration (a reciprocal influence on shape) and a topological integration (a reciprocal influence on position). This survey supports further the hypothesis that an expansion of the parietal region in modern humans could have involved or required a rearrangement of the head functional axis, namely a rotation of the facial block and changes in the face vs braincase spatial organization. More info in The Skull Box.

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