The temporal bone seems to be most correlated with neutral genetic variation, the zygomatic and occipital least. The occipital is often affected by cradling or artificial modification, and the zygomatic may be more strongly influenced by nutrition and patterns of chewing, which may explain their greater deviation from neutrality.
American Journal of Physical Anthropology doi:10.1002/ajpa.21041
Congruence of individual cranial bone morphology and neutral molecular affinity patterns in modern humans
Noreen von Cramon-Taubadel
Recent studies have demonstrated that the shape of the human temporal bone is particularly strongly correlated with neutral genetic expectation, when compared against other cranial regions, such as the vault, face, and basicranium. In turn, this has led to suggestions that the temporal bone is particularly reliable in analyses of primate phylogeny and human population history. While several reasons have been suggested to explain the temporal bone's strong fit with neutral expectation, the temporal bone has never systematically been compared against other individual cranial bones defined using the same biological criteria. Therefore, it is currently unknown whether the shapes of all cranial bones possess reliable information regarding neutral genetic evolution, or whether the temporal bone is unique in this respect. This study tests the hypothesis that the human temporal bone is more congruent with neutral expectation than six other individual cranial bones by correlating population affinity matrices generated using neutral genetic and 3D craniometric data. The results demonstrate that while the temporal bone shows the absolute strongest correlation with neutral genetic data compared with all other bones, it is not statistically differentiated from the sphenoid, frontal, and parietal bones in this regard. Potential reasons for the temporal bone's consistently strong fit with neutral expectation, such as its overall anatomical complexity and/or its contribution to the architecture of the basicranium, are examined. The results suggest that future phylogenetic and taxonomic studies would benefit from considering the shape of the entire cranium minus those regions that deviate most from neutrality.