The evolutionary history of the human face, a multi-disciplinary detective story

Like all complex animals, humans have faces. Indeed, the human face is unconsciously used as the standard to which all other animal faces are compared, in terms of “oddness” or similarity to the human face. Yet, the human face is highly distinctive in several ways, both in its physical features and in its employment in social encounters, both as an instant badge of identification and its constant employment in conveying feelings and intentions in speech with conspecifics. Like all biological characteristics, the human face must be a product of evolution but, how precisely, did it come to have the properties it does? The aim of the project is a book on this subject for the general reader. The book (with the provisional title Making Faces: the evolutionary genesis of the human face) will trace the stages of evolution of vertebrate faces, from the earliest fishes, to the first primates and then to humans; describe the co-evolution of the brain and the face; and discuss the selective pressures and genetic changes that created the human face, within the larger context of human evolution.

Project leader(s):
  • Adam Wilkins (Berlin)

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