Factors influencing cranial variation between prehistoric Japanese forager populations

Buck, L., Menéndez, L. P., De Groote, I., Hassett,, Brenna orcid iconORCID: 0000-0003-0509-3608, Matsumura, H and Stock, J. T. (2024) Factors influencing cranial variation between prehistoric Japanese forager populations. Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences, 16 (3). ISSN 1866-9557

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Official URL: https://doi.org/10.1007/s12520-023-01901-6


Understanding the factors shaping human crania has long been a goal of biological anthropology, and climate, diet, and population history are three of the most well-established influences. The effects of these factors are, however, rarely compared within a single, variable population, limiting interpretations of their relative contribution to craniofacial form. Jomon prehistoric foragers inhabited Japan throughout its climatic and ecological range and developed correspondingly varied modes of subsistence. We have previously demonstrated that a large sample of Jomon crania showed no clear climatic pattern; here we examine variation in Jomon crania in more detail to determine if dietary factors and / or population history influence human intrapopulation variation at this scale. Based on well-established archaeological differences, we divide the Jomon into dietary groups and use geometric morphometric methods to analyse relationships between cranial shape, diet, and population history. We find evidence for diet-related influences on the shape of the neurocranium, particularly in the temporalis region. These shape differences may be interpreted in the context of regional variation in the biomechanical requirements of different diets. More experimental biomechanical and nutritional evidence is needed however, to move suggested links between dietary content and cranial shape from plausible to well-supported. In contrast with the global scale of human variation, where neutral processes are the strongest influence on cranial shape, we find no pattern of population history among individuals from these Jomon sites. The determinants of cranial morphology are complex and the effect of diet is likely mediated by factors including sex, social factors, and chronology. Our results underline the subtlety of the effects of dietary variation beyond the forager / farmer dichotomy on cranial morphology and contribute to our understanding of the complexity of selective pressures shaping human phenotypes on different geographic scales.

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