Paleoclimatic Variation and Brain Expansion during Human Evolution
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One of the major adaptations during the evolution of Homo sapiens was an increase in brain size. Here we present evidence that a significant and substantial proportion of variation in brain size may be related to changes in temperature. Based on a sample of 109 fossilized hominid skulls, we found that cranial capacities were highly correlated with paleoclimatic changes in temperature, as indexed by oxygen isotope data and sea-surface temperature. Indeed, as much as 52% of the variance in the cranial capacity of these skulls could be accounted for by temperature variation at 100 ka intervals. As an index of more short-term seasonal fluctuations in temperature, we examined the latitude of the sites from which the crania originated. More than 22% of the variance in cranial capacity of these skulls could be accounted for by variation in equatorial distance.