Sutural growth restriction and modern human facial evolution: An experimental study in a pig model

Nathan E. Holton, Robert G. Franciscus, Mary Ann Nieves, Steven D. Marshall, Steven B. Reimer, Thomas E. Southard, John C. Keller, Scott D. Maddux

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Facial size reduction and facial retraction are key features that distinguish modern humans from archaic Homo. In order to more fully understand the emergence of modern human craniofacial form, it is necessary to understand the underlying evolutionary basis for these defining characteristics. Although it is well established that the cranial base exerts considerable influence on the evolutionary and ontogenetic development of facial form, less emphasis has been placed on developmental factors intrinsic to the facial skeleton proper. The present analysis was designed to assess anteroposterior facial reduction in a pig model and to examine the potential role that this dynamic has played in the evolution of modern human facial form. Ten female sibship cohorts, each consisting of three individuals, were allocated to one of three groups. In the experimental group (n = 10), microplates were affixed bilaterally across the zygomaticomaxillary and frontonasomaxillary sutures at 2 months of age. The sham group (n = 10) received only screw implantation and the controls (n = 10) underwent no surgery. Following 4 months of post-surgical growth, we assessed variation in facial form using linear measurements and principal components analysis of Procrustes scaled landmarks. There were no differences between the control and sham groups; however, the experimental group exhibited a highly significant reduction in facial projection and overall size. These changes were associated with significant differences in the infraorbital region of the experimental group including the presence of an infraorbital depression and an inferiorly and coronally oriented infraorbital plane in contrast to a flat, superiorly and sagittally infraorbital plane in the control and sham groups. These altered configurations are markedly similar to important additional facial features that differentiate modern humans from archaic Homo, and suggest that facial length restriction via rigid plate fixation is a potentially useful model to assess the developmental factors that underlie changing patterns in craniofacial form associated with the emergence of modern humans.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)48-61
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Anatomy
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2010


  • Archaic Homo
  • Canine fossa
  • Facial retraction
  • Facial size reduction
  • Infraorbital shape
  • Sus scrofa
  • Sutural rigid plate fixation


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