Primate and Human Evolution- a skull Comparison Introduction

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Primate and Human Evolution- A Skull Comparison

Skulls are one of the most descriptive parts of an individual’s skeleton. Skulls alone can give clues as to the age, sex, size, ethnicity, and occasionally socio-economic status of an individual. In studying human evolution, skulls can show many subtle differences between species, and gradual changes from apelike early human ancestors to more modern looking human species.

This lab will allow students to investigate and evaluate evolutionary relationships of various hominid species by examining their skulls. Students will:

  • Become familiar with the different tools and techniques used in paleontology.

  • Collect data by measuring and observing hominid skulls.

  • Analyze structural features and determine their importance in explaining evolutionary relationships.

  • Use data to create a family tree of evolutionary relationships between fossil skulls & living specimens.


Skulls, pencil, calculator, metric ruler, protractor, calipers, lab packet, data table.

Please be very careful in handling the skulls. They can be broken if you are not careful, even when turning them over on the lab tables. Many of the teeth are fragile, and will not tolerate being bumped by the edges of lab tables. Handle skulls over the desk – never walk around with a skull.


Observations and Measurements (Groups)

1. Work in groups to collect data and observations. Each group will take about 5 minutes with each skull sample.

2. The description of the data in each group should be arrived at by consensus.

3. Any characteristic for which data cannot be obtained (i.e. canine size) should be marked “N/A” - not available, so as to avoid confusion with a description such as “none.”

4. Each student will complete a “Human Evolution Data Table”.


1. Make TWO bar graphs of your data, ONE for facial slope and ONE for cranium size.

2. The graphs need to be neatly done, with titles, and labels on the X and Y axis.

3. For each bar graph, on the x-axis, write the name of the skull, in order from largest to smallest or smallest to largest number value.

4. On the y-axis, make a numerical scale including facial slope angle in degrees and cranium size in cm.

5. The graphs should be computer generated using Excel.

6. Analysis of each graph will be completed individually using the analysis worksheet.


Conclusion questions will be completed in class at the end of the lab.


Evolution Data Table (______ pts) ___________

TWO Graphs (titles, labels, correct order) (______ pts) ___________
Graph Analysis (______ pts) ___________
Conclusion Questions (______ pts) ___________
TOTAL (______ PTS) __________

Skull Analysis

Figure 1 indicates some of the major differences between chimpanzee and human skulls.

Although this comparison is between two modern species, it does suggest the types of characteristics that should present in intermediate forms when common ancestry is assumed.

Skull Feature Vocab

Sagittal crest -

Prognathism -

Supra-orbital ridge -

Dental arcade -
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