Interpopulational variation in human brain size: implications for hominin cognitive phylogeny

Authors

  • Gary Clark Biological Anthropology and Comparative Anatomy Unit, Adelaide Medical School, The University of Adelaide, Adelaide, Australia
  • Maciej Henneberg Institute of Evolutionary Medicine, The University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland

DOI:

https://doi.org/10.2478/anre-2021-0029

Keywords:

Brain size, variation, cognition, archeology, embodied cognition, life history, H. erectus

Abstract

Throughout the hominin lineage brain size is believed to have increased threefold – increase which, it is argued by some researchers, results in the enhanced brain power that distinguishes humans from any other living being. However, as we demonstrate in this article this supposed increase is the result of comparing the species mean of contemporary humans with other great apes and fossil hominins. This method obscures both interpopulational variation among modern humans, and the fact that the putative increases in the mean are the result of an increase in the upper limit in some populations, which has the result of obscuring the relative stasis in the lower limit over the last 600k years. For example, populations such as Aboriginal Australians have a range that is more different from Danes than it is from that of Asian H. erectus over the last 600ka. Yet Aboriginal Australians, whose unique anatomy seems to be related to the climatic conditions of Australia, possess all of the socio-cognitive traits characteristic of all other modern-day populations – yet they seemed not to have undergone increase in brain size to the degree that many other populations have. In this instance brain size seems to be unrelated to cognition. In this article we present a statistical analysis of interpopulational variation in contemporary humans and why such an analysis is crucial for our understanding of hominin cognitive, social and technological evolution. We also suggest how such variation may add to our understanding of hominin ontogeny or life history. Additionally, we develop a model based on humanity’s unique form of embodied social cognition that results from our upright bipedal posture and hand morphology. This model is then used to explain the results of our statistical analysis and the possible factors underpinning the human emergence.

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Published

2021-12-30

How to Cite

Clark, G., & Henneberg, M. (2021). Interpopulational variation in human brain size: implications for hominin cognitive phylogeny. Anthropological Review, 84(4), 405–429. https://doi.org/10.2478/anre-2021-0029

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