Did you know that human brains have been shrinking over the last 10,000 to 20,000 years?
Other parts of our heads have also been changing. An article at OneZero has some of the details, with a focus on breathing problems that interfere with sleep in children:
Skeletal records show that for hundreds of thousands of years, people had beautiful skulls: straight teeth, wide jaws, forward faces, large airways. Robert Corruccini, an emeritus anthropology professor at Southern Illinois University, found perfectly straight teeth and wide jaws in children’s skulls from pre-Roman times among Etruscan remains in southern Italy.
Then, about 250 years ago, our faces began to change. Boyd argues that industrialization interrupted the ancestral patterns of weaning and feeding, with babies nursing on demand for years while also trying solid foods under adults’ watchful eyes. Boyd says that the widespread adoption of bottle feeding, pacifiers and soft processed food deprived toddlers of practice chewing and distorted the shapes of their mouths. (“In modern society you have Gerber’s baby food,” Corruccini told me. “Etruscan kids had to chew once they were getting off breast milk. Babies have remarkably powerful chewing capabilities.”) Just like diabetes and heart disease, malocclusion — the misalignment of jaws and teeth — followed industrialization around the globe. Meanwhile, people in societies that never industrialized enjoyed well-aligned teeth and jaws.
* * *
There is no easy way to turn back the evolution of our skulls. It’s unrealistic to advise parents to eschew processed food, breastfeed longer, move to open-air cabins in the country, or perhaps put children on the Paleo diet to prevent these changes taking hold in the skulls of the next generation. We are stuck with our smaller modern faces, but there are steps we can take to address the conditions that come with them.
Steve Parker, M.D.