Understanding Craniofacial Biology
Science has a difficult time explaining unique events. Fortunately, in the natural world, unique events are rare. We as human biologists, however, are faced with defining, describing, and trying to explain a set of unique characteristics on a regularasis. Human biology is characterized by a suite of unique traits involving our locomotion, life history, reproductive physiology, and cognitive ability. The human craniofacial complex is no different with the unique combination of flexed cranial base, orthognathic face, and large, globular neurocranium. The usual strategy of the comparative biologist is to collect data on homologous structures and behaviors from, preferably closely related, animals and use this to test hypotheses regarding the animal of interest. In this work, traits may be considered either independently or as part of a morphological, functional, or developmental complex. Anthropologists and human biologists again are hindered as no animal, including our closest living relatives, share any of our most interesting traits, even when taken as independent entities, of primary interest.
While this may seem to place the biological anthropologist in futile pursuit of an unobtainable goal, this is not the case. It merely necessitates the examination, and understanding, of every potential clue to the puzzle. In order to obtain an understanding the examination must take place on many levels. As an anatomist, much of my work involves identification of traits and characterizing their variability in either quantitative or qualitative terms. As a comparative anatomist, I am then required to examine similar traits in additional populations, characterize the variability within these populations, and note the similarities or differences within the initial population. As an evolutionary anatomist, I must then, where possible, extend this approach into the fossil record to make inferences about the historical processes responsible for the observable morphology.
My career has focused on understanding the craniofacial biology of humans and non-human primates. In my work I have examined the morphology of numerous fossil and modern skulls both externally and internally (with the help of radiographic techniques such as CT imagery) from around the world. I have used analytical approaches ranging from simple univariate statistics to complex geometric shape analyses with current analyses directed at using state-of-the art quantitative genetic approaches to detail the genetic architecture of the craniofacial complex. In this work my goal has always been the same, to understand the forces, genetic and non-genetic, influencing variation of the craniofacial complex across primates
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