The male human face evolved to be able to take a punch. That’s the intriguing conclusion of a recent scientific study — one that raises some curious additional questions.
The study examined how facial bones respond to impacts and determined which bones are most likely to be fractured in a fistfight. It then looked at the bone structures in the skulls of our distant ancestors and saw that the same bones were the ones that showed the most development in terms of sturdiness and thickness. Those also are the bones where there is the greatest difference between the male and female skulls. The scientists then put two and two together and concluded that natural selection was at work and was preferring the male proto-humans that could best absorb a right cross to the chops.
This theory, if correct, tells us a lot about early humans. First, under Darwinian theory natural selection operates in response to prevalent conditions, not the occasional unusual circumstance. That suggests that early human males were brawling constantly, rather than having a dust-up once in a while. Instead of the human apes using an animal bone while Also Sprach Zarathustra welled in the background in the opening scene of 2001: A Space Odyssey, think of them squaring off and trading left uppercuts, like participants in a melee during a professional wrestling match or British soccer hooligans.
Second, evolution works only if the trait being selected against doesn’t continue in the genetic pool. This means that our brittle-skulled ancestors didn’t just shake off a knockout blow and go home to procreate with the missus — they were killed outright. Whether they were beaten until their skulls cracked like eggshells or just knocked out and left to be devoured by sabertoothed tigers (or hungry members of other tribes), they were cut off from further contributing to the human evolutionary tree. We flabby modern humans survived to sit in front of our computer screens because our male forebears were tough, thick-skulled, strong-jawed types who didn’t go down at the first blow.
Science is interesting.