A 3-D geometric morphometric study of intraspecific variation in the ontogeny of the temporal bone in modern Homo sapiens

Heather F. Smith, Terrence Ritzman, Erik Otárola-Castillo, Claire E. Terhune

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


This study addresses how the human temporal bone develops the population-specific pattern of morphology observed among adults and at what point in ontogeny those patterns arise. Three-dimensional temporal bone shape was captured using 15 landmarks on ontogenetic series of specimens from seven modern human populations. Discriminant function analysis revealed that population-specific temporal bone morphology is evident early in ontogeny, with significant shape differences among many human populations apparent prior to the eruption of the first molar. As early as five years of age, temporal bone shape reflects population history and can be used to reliably sort populations, although those in closer geographic proximity and molecular affinity are more likely to be misclassified. The deviation of cold-adapted populations from this general pattern of congruence between temporal bone morphology and genetic distances, identified in previous work, was confirmed here in adult and subadult specimens, and was revealed to occur earlier in ontogeny than previously recognized. Significant differences exist between the ontogenetic trajectories of some pairs of populations, but not among others, and the angles of these trajectories do not reflect genetic relationships or final adult temporal bone size. Significant intrapopulation differences are evident early in ontogeny, with differences becoming amplified by divergent trajectories in some groups. These findings elucidate how the congruence between adult human temporal bone morphology and population history develops, and reveal that this pattern corresponds closely to that described previously for facial ontogeny.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)479-489
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Human Evolution
Issue number5
StatePublished - Nov 2013


  • Cranial variation
  • Ontogenetic trajectory
  • Subadult temporal bone morphology


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