General Principles of Evolutionary Morphology

  • Gabriele A. Macho
Living reference work entry


Anthropologists analyzing morphology for phylogenetic, functional, or behavioral purposes are confronted by a plethora of obstacles. Morphology is not free to vary but is subject to a number of constraints, which may be historical, developmental, and/or functional, while equivalency in function can be achieved by different means. This, together with the fact that the fossil record is scant, confounds meaningful interpretation of phylogenetic pathways and the reconstruction of function and behavior from fossilized remains. To overcome these difficulties, paleoanthropology is becoming increasingly inter- and multidisciplinary, whereby researchers draw on, and incorporate, approaches and findings obtained in other, sometimes very diverse, disciplines. This contribution briefly reviews the constraints acting on morphology, the limitations faced when interpreting form/function and behavior from morphology, and the different approaches currently explored in paleoanthropology to obtain a better understanding of hominin paleobiology. While offering exciting new possibilities, researchers should however be mindful of the limitations inherent in new technologies.


Functional Adaptation Cortical Bone Thickness Fossil Remains Enamel Thickness Enamel Prism 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



I thank Winfried Henke and Ian Tattersall for the invitation to contribute to the Handbook of Paleoanthropology, and John Skedros and Tim Bromage for permission to reproduce their figures. This chapter is the result of various research projects, funded mainly by the Natural Environment Research Council (UK), The Leverhulme Trust (UK) and the Ministerio de EconomÚa y Competitividad (Spain).


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© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Research Laboratory for Archaeology (RLAHA)University of OxfordOxfordEngland

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