The advent of farming, especially dairy products, had a small but significant effect on the shape of human skulls, according to a recently published study from anthropologists at UC Davis.
Graduate student David Katz, with Professor Tim Weaver and statistician Mark Grote, used a worldwide collection of 559 crania and 534 lower jaws (skull bones) from more than two dozen pre-industrial populations to model the influence of diet on the shape, form, and size of the human skull during the transition to agriculture.
They found modest changes in skull morphology for groups that consumed cereals, dairy, or both cereals and dairy.
“The main differences between forager and farmer skulls are where we would expect to find them, and change in ways we might expect them to, if chewing demands decreased in farming groups,” said Katz, who is now a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Calgary, Alberta.
The largest changes in skull morphology were observed in groups consuming dairy products, suggesting that the effect of agriculture on skull morphology was greatest in populations consuming the softest food (cheese!). Paper. (paywall) – David C. Katz, Mark N. Grote, Timothy D. Weaver. Changes in human skull morphology across the agricultural transition are consistent with softer diets in preindustrial farming groups. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2017; 114 (34): 9050 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1702586114 More.
It would be interesting to know how long these changes take and how easily they are reversed.
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