Abstract

The face is the most distinctive feature used to identify others. Modern humans have a short, retracted face beneath a large globular braincase that is distinctively different from that of our closest living relatives. The face is a skeletal complex formed by 14 individual bones that houses parts of the digestive, respiratory, visual and olfactory systems. A key to understanding the origin and evolution of the human face is analysis of the faces of extinct taxa in the hominin clade over the last 6 million years. Yet, as new fossils are recovered and the number of hominin species grows, the question of how and when the modern human face originated remains unclear. By examining key features of the facial skeleton, here we evaluate the evolutionary history of the modern human face in the context of its development, morphology and function, and suggest that its appearance is the result of a combination of biomechanical, physiological and social influences.

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Acknowledgements

We thank the Fundación Ramón Areces, Spain, for funding a symposium organized by R.S.L. and J.L.A., entitled the Evolutionary History of the Human Face. C.S. is supported by the Calleva Foundation and the Human Origins Research Fund of the Natural History Museum, London (UK). K.H. is supported by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG FOR 2237) and the European Research Council (ERC CoG 724703). B.W. acknowledges the support of the GW Provost’s Signature Program. J.L.A. is supported by the Ministerio de Economia y Competitividad of the Government of Spain, project No CGL2015-65387-C3-2-P (MINECO/FEDER). We also thank P. Wynne for the drawings shown in Figs. 1 and 3, and J. Warshaw for help with Fig. 2. Drawing shown in Fig. 4 is by E. Saiz. Finally, to all of our colleagues whose important work may not be have been included here due to space limitations, we apologise.

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Affiliations

  1. Department of Basic Science and Craniofacial Biology, New York University College of Dentistry, New York, NY, USA

    • Rodrigo S. Lacruz
  2. NYCEP, New York, NY, USA

    • Rodrigo S. Lacruz
    •  & Katerina Harvati
  3. Centre for Human Evolution (CHER), Department of Earth Sciences, Natural History Museum, London, UK

    • Chris B. Stringer
  4. Institute of Human Origins and School of Human Evolution and Social Change, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ, USA

    • William H. Kimbel
  5. Center for the Advanced Study of Human Paleobiology, George Washington University, Washington DC, USA

    • Bernard Wood
  6. Paleoanthropology work group, Senckenberg Centre for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment, and DFG Centre for Advanced Studies ‘Words, Bones, Genes, Tools’, Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen, Tübingen, Germany

    • Katerina Harvati
  7. Department of Archaeology and Hull York Medical School, University of York, York, UK

    • Paul O’Higgins
  8. Department of Biomaterials and Biomimetics, New York University College of Dentistry, New York, USA

    • Timothy G. Bromage
  9. Universidad Complutense de Madrid-Instituto Carlos III (UCMISCIII), Centro de Investigación de la Evolución y Comportamiento Humanos, Madrid, Spain

    • Juan-Luis Arsuaga

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