Re: Neanderthals' Noses Blow Scientists Away

Jane Andrews (
Mon, 7 Oct 1996 15:54:55 +0100

On 3 Oct 1996, Nick Maclaren wrote:

> In article <>,
> Don Staples <> wrote:
> >
> >Species identification needs more precision than the limited factor of
> >singular observations. I beleave that there are enough racial
> >differences in modern man to allow destinction by race from skeletal
> >structure, but all HS.
> Yes, there are. It is trivial to separate most populations and often
> easy to distinguish even individual skeletons. In fact, I am 90%
> certain that you can separate mainly celtic groups from mainly
> germanic ones on the basis of the skulls alone! The same is true for
> many geographical variants of other mammals.
> Nick Maclaren,
> University of Cambridge Computer Laboratory,
> New Museums Site, Pembroke Street, Cambridge CB2 3QG, England.
> Email:
> Tel.: +44 1223 334761 Fax: +44 1223 334679
I'm sitting at my computer just a few hundred yards from where Nick wrote
his message, but despite this geographical proximity, my understanding of
the use of craniometrics is rather distant from his.

It is possible using large ammounts of data, reasonable sample sizes and
sophisticated mulivariate statistical analysis to
compare populations. However it is not
possible to say anything about an individual. This is because there is a
degree of variation in size and shape of skull within any population and
there is lots of overlap between groups. So while europeans tend to have
high forheads, gracile cranial bones or what ever, such an individual
might come from any part of the world. Craniometrics can usefully be used
to compare samples from different regions or periods to try to establish
the degree of relatedness. I am currently doing a PhD which involves
using this very technique to look at the relationship between pre and post
farming populations in various areas of europe. The work of WW Howells
has been very important in establishing the validity of Craniometric
analysis in modern biological anthropology. If your interested in the
techique then try and get hold of his 1973 report "Cranial variation in
Man" or "skull shapes and the map" (1989). Both are papers of the Peabody
Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University Press. A more
recent book which also might be interesting is "The Evolution of Modern
Human Diversity" by MM Lahr (cambridge university press, 1996) This also
makes an invaluable contribution to the origins of modern humans debate,
and should be read by any one interested in that discussion.

Before you all fall asleep, bored by my methodological lecture let me
point out a major flaw of craniometric methods. When trying to determine
relationships from cranial measurements, we assume that size and shape of
the skull is determined by genetic factors. Of course in reallity size
and shape are infulenced by both genetic and environmetal factors.

I hope that this interests someone!

Jane Andrews.