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The Evolution of the Human Head

Overview

In one sense, human heads function much like those of other mammals. We use them to chew, smell, swallow, think, hear, and so on. But, in other respects, the human head is quite unusual. Unlike other animals, even our great ape cousins, our heads are short and wide, very big brained, snoutless, largely furless, and perched on a short, nearly vertical neck. Daniel E. Lieberman sets out to explain how the human head works, and why our heads evolved in this peculiarly human way.

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Overview

In one sense, human heads function much like those of other mammals. We use them to chew, smell, swallow, think, hear, and so on. But, in other respects, the human head is quite unusual. Unlike other animals, even our great ape cousins, our heads are short and wide, very big brained, snoutless, largely furless, and perched on a short, nearly vertical neck. Daniel E. Lieberman sets out to explain how the human head works, and why our heads evolved in this peculiarly human way.

Exhaustively researched and years in the making, this innovative book documents how the many components of the head function, how they evolved since we diverged from the apes, and how they interact in diverse ways both functionally and developmentally, causing them to be highly integrated. This integration not only permits the head’s many units to accommodate each other as they grow and work, but also facilitates evolutionary change. Lieberman shows how, when, and why the major transformations evident in the evolution of the human head occurred. The special way the head is integrated, Lieberman argues, made it possible for a few developmental shifts to have had widespread effects on craniofacial growth, yet still permit the head to function exquisitely.

This is the first book to explore in depth what happened in human evolution by integrating principles of development and functional morphology with the hominin fossil record. The Evolution of the Human Head will permanently change the study of human evolution and has widespread ramifications for thinking about other branches of evolutionary biology.

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Editorial Reviews

Christopher Dean
Lieberman's integrated approach will make his book a forum for a way of thinking in human evolution that has not yet found its equal in print.
John G. Fleagle
This is an outstanding book. Lieberman draws from a wide variety of disciplines, including bone biology, embryology, morphometrics, functional anatomy, and paleontology to forge a masterful synthesis of the evolution of the human head. It will be the definitive reference for decades.
Boston Globe - Carolyn Y. Johnson
Lieberman dives deep into the cranium, showing just how much of what we consider to be human is connected to what happens above the neck.
Times Higher Education - Chris McManus
Daniel Lieberman has written a wonderful and inspiring book about the human head's evolution...One stands in awe at the work that has gone into it...This encyclopedic book is transformative...The morphological details in Lieberman's book make it a direct descendant of Gray's Anatomy...If a single word describes this book, it is integrative. The author integrates material from anatomy, physiology, physics, biomechanics, molecular and developmental biology, but brings all under the umbrella of evolutionary theory.
American Scientist - Brian T. Shea
This [is an] impressive book...This hefty and well-written book offers a scholarly breadth and attention to detail that are certainly laudable. The book is quite unusual in that it includes a comprehensive review of the soft tissues associated with cranial features and discusses them within the context of evolutionary morphology and the fossil record of the human skull. I can think of no other volume that packages the anatomy of the human head in this fashion...Lieberman's big book definitely moves us ahead in effectively synthesizing so much of what is currently understood about the structure, function and evolution of the human head.
Nature - Henry Gee
By rooting his study in the basics of tissue mechanics and functional morphology, Lieberman does the spadework to which all such studies aspire but few achieve--and makes that task seem elegant and effortless.
Science - Matthew J. Ravosa
Daniel Lieberman marshals diverse evidence to provide a comprehensive framework for understanding patterns of variation and covariation in the form, function, and phylogeny of the human head...The breadth and diversity of subject matter the volume will impart to the reader is particularly laudable. Lieberman's holistic approach is a welcome, if not requisite, strategy for addressing a multifarious biological system such as the human head. The book's focus on both hard- and soft-tissue components, consideration of how such elements correspond to one another, and comprehensive overview of external and internal influences on patterns of morphological variation and covariation clearly set the tone for how one might profitably investigate cranial evolution across all vertebrates. The introductions to myriad biological concepts, surveys of some modern approaches to outstanding paleoanthropological questions, and review of fossil evidence regarding evolutionary transformations in human skull form will enlighten readers of all backgrounds. The Evolution of the Human Head is an entertaining read...It contains a wealth of information relevant to human evolution. In doing so, it offers a wonderful entrée into many of the outstanding issues that will undoubtedly remain at the center of debates regarding human origins for years to come.
Library Journal
In this distinctive history, Lieberman (human evolutionary biology, Harvard) opens with three questions about the human head: Why does it look like it does? How does the head function and grow? And how did it evolve? Starting with the head's complexity—the brain, sensory organs, bones, and more—Lieberman argues that this complex, functional, and structural integration provided an increased flexibility to adapt as the head evolved. Moreover, this evolution occurred because of a few significant transformations of the head driven partially by selection toward unique changes such as diet, endurance, speech, and bipedalism in hominid behavior. Small changes over time, possibly embryonic, contributed to big changes like a larger brain or flatter face because the tissues, bones, walls, and spaces in the head accommodate each other during ontogeny. VERDICT Lieberman offers acute descriptions of anatomy, embryology, physiology, and hominid fossils, while providing an exciting way to observe the relationships among structures, functions, and evolutionary variance. Useful illustrations, charts, and a glossary assist in making this book more accessible. Recommended for graduate students and researchers interested in anthropology and human evolution.—Scott Vieira, Johnson Cty. Lib., Overland Park, KS
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674046368
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 1/3/2011
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 768
  • Sales rank: 591,786
  • Product dimensions: 9.44 (w) x 11.34 (h) x 1.63 (d)

Meet the Author

Daniel E. Lieberman is Professor of Human Evolutionary Biology at Harvard.
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