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The Role Of Genetic Drift In Shaping Modern Human Cranial Evolution: A Test Using Microevolutionary Modeling

Heather F. Smith

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The means by which various microevolutionary processes have acted in the past to produce patterns of cranial variation that characterize modern humans is not thoroughly understood. Applying a microevolutionary framework, within- and among-population variance/covariance (V/CV) structure was compared for several functional and developmental modules of the skull across a worldwide sample of modern humans. V/CV patterns in the basicranium, temporal bone, and face are proportional within and among groups, which is consistent with a hypothesis of neutral evolution; however, mandibular morphology deviated from this pattern. Degree of intergroup similarity in facial, temporal bone, and mandibular morphology is significantly correlated with geographic distance; however, much of the variance remains unexplained. These findings provide insight into the evolutionary history of modern human cranial variation by identifying signatures of genetic drift, gene flow, and migration and set the stage for inferences regarding selective pressures that early humans encountered since their initial migrations around the world.