Written by IainB
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Topics: evolution, Nose, Humans, Ears

Sunday, 4 March 2012

image for Humans are evolving bigger noses
Artist's impression of a human in 20,000 years time

A study of skulls across the past twenty-thousand years since modern humans emerged from Africa has revealed that human nosed and ears are getting bigger.

"For most of human history," said Cambridge University evolutionary biologist, Eva Luton, "noses and ears have remained roughly the same size."

According to Luton, the nose has always had a variety of sizes with a great deal of variations between different groups of people, whilst ears have generally been quite small.

"Ears started getting bigger about a thousand years ago," said Luton. "And noses have almost doubled in average size in just five hundred years."

Luton states that these are averages, and there are still plenty of small noses and ears, but the trend is towards larger facial appendages. The makers of Red Noses for Red Nose day have taken the research into account for the design of their next batch of Noses.

"We think that the increase in ears coincided with humans inventing the hat," said Luton. "Larger ears allow for increasingly heavy hats to be placed on the head."

For noses, Luton has a hypothesis for this too.

"Spectacles," she said. "Glasses are quite heavy, and require additional nose support to stop them from falling off a face. We think that increase of nose size is staying in step with the number of people wearing glasses. Amazon tribes that have never come across glasses have smaller noses on average, whilst one particular society in Brazil only bestows the ceremonial hat on the child with the biggest ears."

If the hypothesis is to gain more popular support (currently, it has none), then Luton will have to show how nose size starts reducing again as corrective surgery and contact lens start to show an evolutionary effect.

"This is going to take a few hundred years," she said.

Luton has a stark warning if she is wrong.

"If spectacles and hats are not to blame," she said, "and there is a different selective pressure causing noses and ears to increase in size and volume, then we will see very different humans in twenty-thousand years." [Artist's impression pictured]

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