Posts Tagged 'functional craniology'

Brains and eyes

After our first survey on the morphological relationships between eyes and brains, here a comprehensive second study on this same topic. We have analyzed data from computed tomography (orbits and endocranial space) and magnetic resonance (eyes and brain), investigating modern humans, apes, and fossils. Soft tissue variation mainly deals with the distance between eyes and temporal lobes. Cranial variation mainly concerns the orientation of the orbits, probably influenced by parietal morphology and variation of the head functional axis. Phylogenetic differences are generally associated with the distance between orbits and braincase, with fossil humans showing an intermediate position between modern humans and apes. Here a Skull Box post with more details.

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Vault and base

This week we have published a study on the integration between the parietal and temporal morphology in the human skull. Modern humans display large and bulging parietal lobes and bones, and large and projecting temporal lobes. It is possible that the latter (the anterior displacement of the temporal lobes) can be a spatial secondary consequence of the former (the enlargement of the parietal district). This survey on adult skulls suggests that this is not the case: parietal bulging and temporal displacement are apparently independent and not related. Nonetheless, when one of these districts undergoes a major variation (bulging in the case of the parietal bone, vertical stretching in the case of the middle cranial fossa), the other undergoes a spatial rotation: shape does not change, but the orientation varies according to the global cranial modification. The enlargement/reduction of the parietal bone have thus a major effect on head orientation, and it is also associated with facial proportions. Hence, it turns out that the general enlargement of the parietal district, a species-specific character of modern human brain and skull, has probably influenced the functional axis of the head, with possible consequences on body organization and posture. These results once more recall the importance of an integrated analysis between brain and braincase and, more generally, of a system-based approach to functional craniology.

Temporal sulcal pattern

Rosas et al 2014Neuroanatomical evidence suggests that we have relatively larger temporal lobes when compared with the apes’ allometric brain variation. Actually, there are also some form differences in our middle cranial fossa, housing the temporal lobes. However, the morphology of the middle endocranial fossa is influenced by many factors involved in the cranial base phylogeny and ontogeny, and we can wonder whether it strictly represents, in terms or direct linear variations, corresponding changes of the temporal lobes. The structural relationship with the underlying mandible is just one of the many non-neural influences of the middle endocranial area. Nonetheless, the middle endocranial surface can also provide information on the sulcal pattern of the temporal cortex, now further investigated by Antonio Rosas and Markus Bastir. In this case, the resulting morphology is more likely to be the direct consequence of brain morphogenesis and cortical organization, being less influenced by structural cranial constraints. That is, possible species-specific differences in the sulcal pattern can be more easily interpreted in terms of intrinsic brain factors (independently upon their functional meaning), more than in terms of extrinsic  secondary consequences of the complex spatial dynamics of the endocranial base.

Brain and eye

Paleoanthropologists are now fairly convinced about the importance of integration in biology and evolution. It is a rare pleasure to see such perspectives successfully applied to every-day life problems. Michael Masters, with a very well documented study on human evolution and functional craniology, suggests that myopia (the primary source of reduced vision throughout the world) may be the consequence of our recent anatomical evolution. Large brains placing the frontal lobes on the orbital roof and constraining the orbital space, while at the same time facial reduction provides further structural limitations. That is, in our species the orbit cannot acknowledge properly the morphological requirements of the eye. Brain and eye compete for space, and the advantages associated with the former are paid with the problems associated with the latter. The consequent packing deforms the eye, leading to vision problems. Allometric and brachycephalic proportions make the situation even a bit more difficult in women and East Asian populations. This hypothesis is an excellent example of interchange between evolutionary biology and medicine. Until now, myopia has been mostly studied considering the eye like an isolated unit. Masters has now provided a very effective example of how induction and deduction can be improved mixing fields, in this case integrating medicine with functional craniology and paleoanthropology.  Interestingly, similar deformations associated with the frontal lobe spatial packing have been also described for some psychiatric disorders.


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    The Center for Cognitive Archaeology is offering three exciting classes this semester: Neurocognition of Art, Cognitive Evolution, and Neandertal Cognition. Follow the link below for detailed information. https://www.uccs.edu/~cca/

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  • Eye-brain spatial relationship
    We have just published a new study on the spatial relationship between visual and endocranial structures in adult modern humans, chimpanzees, and fossil humans. The survey was conducted in collaboration with Michael Masters from Montana Tech (USA), who previously hypothesized that, in modern humans, the positioning of the orbits below the frontal lobes coupl […]

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