Allometric scaling of infraorbital surface topography in Homo

Scott D. Maddux, Robert G. Franciscus

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Scopus citations


Infraorbital morphology is often included in phylogenetic and functional analyses of Homo. The inclusion of distinct infraorbital configurations, such as the "canine fossa" in Homo sapiens or the "inflated" maxilla in Neandertals, is generally based on either descriptive or qualitative assessments of this morphology, or simple linear chord and subtense measurements. However, the complex curvilinear surface of the infraorbital region has proven difficult to quantify through these traditional methods. In this study, we assess infraorbital shape and its potential allometric scaling in fossil Homo (n = 18) and recent humans (n = 110) with a geometric morphometric method well-suited for quantifying complex surface topographies. Our results indicate that important aspects of infraorbital shape are correlated with overall infraorbital size across Homo. Specifically, individuals with larger infraorbital areas tend to exhibit relatively flatter infraorbital surface topographies, taller and narrower infraorbital areas, sloped inferior orbital rims, anteroinferiorly oriented maxillary body facies, posteroinferiorly oriented maxillary processes of the zygomatic, and non-everted lateral nasal margins. In contrast, individuals with smaller infraorbital regions generally exhibit relatively depressed surface topographies, shorter and wider infraorbital areas, projecting inferior orbital rims, posteroinferiorly oriented maxillary body facies, anteroinferiorly oriented maxillary processes, and everted lateral nasal margins. These contrasts form a continuum and only appear dichotomized at the ends of the infraorbital size spectrum. In light of these results, we question the utility of incorporating traditionally polarized infraorbital morphologies in phylogenetic and functional analyses without due consideration of continuous infraorbital and facial size variation in Homo. We conclude that the essentially flat infraorbital surface topography of Neandertals is not unique and can be explained, in part, as a function of possessing large infraorbital regions, the ancestral condition for Homo. Furthermore, it appears likely that the diminutive infraorbital region of anatomically modern Homo sapiens is a primary derived trait, with related features such as depressed infraorbital surface topography expressed as correlated secondary characters.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)161-174
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Human Evolution
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2009


  • Canine fossa
  • Infraorbital size shape scaling
  • Maxillary inflation
  • Midface
  • Modern humans
  • Neandertals


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