A comparison of cortical elastic properties in the craniofacial skeletons of three primate species and its relevance to the study of human evolution Academic Article uri icon


  • When a force is applied to an object, the resulting pattern of strain is a function of both the object's geometry and its elastic properties. Thus, knowledge of elastic properties in craniofacial cortical bone is indispensable for exploring the biomechanics and adaptation of primate skulls. However, elastic properties, such as density and stiffness, cannot be measured in all species, particularly extinct species known only from fossils. In order for advanced engineering techniques such as finite element analysis (FEA) to be applied to questions of primate and hominid craniofacial functional morphology, it is important to understand interspecific patterns of variation in elastic properties. We hypothesized that closely related species would have similar patterns of bone elastic properties, and that similarities with extant species should allow reasonable predictions of elastic properties in the skeletons of extinct primate species. In this study, we tested this hypothesis by measuring elastic properties in five areas of the external cortex of the baboon craniofacial skeleton using an ultrasonic technique, and by comparing the results to existing data from macaque and human crania. Results showed that cortical density, thickness, elastic and shear moduli, and anisotropy varied among areas in the baboon cranium. Similar variation had previously been found in rhesus and human crania, suggesting area-specific elastic patterns in the skulls of each species. Comparison among species showed differences, suggesting species-specific patterns. These patterns were more similar between macaques and baboons for density, maximum elastic and shear stiffness, and anisotropy than between either of these and humans. This finding demonstrates that patterns of cortical elastic properties are generally similar in closely related primate species with similar craniofacial morphology. Thus, reasonable estimates of cortical bone elastic properties should be possible for extinct species through the study of phylogenetically related and functionally similar modern forms. For example, reasonable elastic property estimates of cortical bone from fossil hominid skulls should be possible once adequate information about such properties in extant great apes is added to our current data from humans, macaques, and baboons. Such data should eventually allow FEA of craniofacial function in fossil hominids.

author list (cited authors)

  • Wang, Q., Strait, D. S., & Dechow, P. C.

citation count

  • 40

publication date

  • May 2006