Intraspecific variability in human maxillary bone modeling patterns during ontogeny

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


  • Alexandra Schuh
  • Philipp Gunz
  • Villa, Chiara
  • Kornelius Kupczik
  • Jean-Jacques Hublin
  • Sarah E Freidline

OBJECTIVES: This study compares the ontogenetic bone modeling patterns of the maxilla to the related morphological changes in three human populations to better understand how morphological variability within a species is established during ontogeny at both micro- and macroscopic levels.

MATERIALS AND METHODS: The maxillary bones of an ontogenetic sample of 145 subadult and adult individuals from Greenland (Inuit), Western Europe (France, Germany, and Portugal), and South Africa (Khoekhoe and San) were analyzed. Bone formation and resorption were quantified using histological methods to visualize the bone modeling patterns. In parallel, semilandmark geometric morphometric techniques were used on 3D models of the same individuals to capture the morphological changes. Multivariate statistics were applied and shape differences between age groups were visualized through heat maps.

RESULTS: The three populations show differences in the degree of shape change acquired during ontogeny, leading to divergences in the developmental trajectories. Only subtle population differences in the bone modeling patterns were found, which were maintained throughout ontogeny. Bone resorption in adults mirrors the pattern found in subadults, but is expressed at lower intensities.

DISCUSSION: Our data demonstrate that maxillary morphological differences observed in three geographically distinct human populations are also reflected at the microscopic scale. However, we suggest that these differences are mostly driven by changes in rates and timings of the cellular activities, as only slight discrepancies in the location of bone resorption could be observed. The shared general bone modeling pattern is likely characteristic of all Homo sapiens, and can be observed throughout ontogeny.

Original languageEnglish
JournalAmerican Journal of Physical Anthropology
Issue number4
Pages (from-to)655-670
Number of pages16
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2020

    Research areas

  • Adult, Anthropology, Physical, Bone Remodeling/physiology, Continental Population Groups/statistics & numerical data, Humans, Maxilla/anatomy & histology

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