'We've been losing face for 10,000 years'
(The Sunday Times)
Updated: 2005-11-23 06:36
The human face is shrinking. Research into people's appearance over the past
10,000 years has found that our ancestors' heads and faces were much larger than
Changes in diet are thought to be the main cause. The switch to softer,
farmed foods means that jawbones, teeth, skulls and muscles do not need to be as
strong as in the past.
The shrinkage has been blamed for a surge in dental problems caused by
crooked or overlapping teeth.
"Over the past 10,000 years there has been a trend toward rounder skulls with
smaller faces and jaws," said Clark Spencer Larsen, professor of anthropology at
Ohio State University.
"This began with the rise in farming and the increasing use of cooking, which
began around 10,000 years ago."
His conclusions are based on measurements from thousands of teeth, jawbones,
skulls and other bones collected from prehistoric sites around the world.
Skulls from the site of a 9,000-year-old city in Turkey thought to be the
world's oldest show that the faces of city-dwellers had already begun to shrink
compared with contemporaries who had not settled down.
Details will be reported at a forthcoming conference on the global history of
health. Larsen will suggest that a typical human of 10,000 years ago would have
had a much heavier build overall because of the hard work needed to gather food
and stay alive.
He said: "Many men then would have had the shape of Arnold Schwarzenegger's
head while women might have looked more like Camilla (the Duchess of Cornwall).
By contrast, Tony Blair and George Bush are good examples of the more delicate
Other studies are confirming Larsen's findings. George Armelagos, professor
of anthropology at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, has made extensive
measurements on people from Nubia in modern Egypt and Sudan to see how their
appearance has changed.
He found that the top of the head, or cranial vault, had grown higher and
more rounded, a pattern also seen in human remains found at sites in other parts
of the world.
Charles Loring Brace, professor of anthropology at the University of
Michigan, said: "We are growing less teeth. Ten thousand years ago everyone grew
wisdom teeth but now only half of us get them, and other teeth like the lateral
incisors have become much smaller. This is evolution in action."
Softer food may not be the only cause. Some scientists blame sexual selection
the preference of prehistoric people for partners with smaller faces.
Dr Simon Hillson, of the Institute of Archaeology at University College
London, has studied humans living from 26,000 years ago to about 8,000 years
ago. He measured 15,000 prehistoric teeth, jaws and skulls collected by museums
around the world and found the same pattern of shrinking faces.
(China Daily 11/23/2005 page6)