Ancestral Variations in the Shape and Size of the Zygoma

Anna C. Oettlé*, Fabrice P. Demeter, Ericka N. L'abbé

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Citations (Scopus)


The variable development of the zygoma, dictating its shape and size variations among ancestral groups, has important clinical implications and valuable anthropological and evolutionary inferences. The purpose of the study was to review the literature regarding the variations in the zygoma with ancestry. Ancestral variation in the zygoma reflects genetic variations because of genetic drift as well as natural selection and epigenetic changes to adapt to diet and climate variations with possible intensification by isolation. Prominence of the zygoma, zygomaxillary tuberosity, and malar tubercle have been associated with Eastern Asian populations in whom these features intensified. Prominence of the zygoma is also associated with groups from Eastern Europe and the rest of Asia. Diffusion of these traits occurred across the Behring Sea to the Arctic areas and to North and South America. The greatest zygomatic projections are exhibited in Arctic groups as an adaptation to extreme cold conditions, while Native South American groups also present with other features of facial robusticity. Groups from Australia, Malaysia, and Oceania show prominence of the zygoma to a certain extent, possibly because of archaic occupations by undifferentiated Southeast Asian populations. More recent interactions with Chinese groups might explain the prominent cheekbones noted in certain South African groups. Many deductions regarding evolutionary processes and diversifications of early groups have been made. Cognisance of these ancestral variations also have implications for forensic anthropological assessments as well as plastic and reconstructive surgery. More studies are needed to improve accuracy of forensic anthropological identification techniques. Anat Rec, 300:196–208, 2017.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)196-208
Number of pages13
JournalAnatomical Record
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • evolution
  • malar prominence
  • malar tubercle
  • native American
  • zygomaxillary tuberosity


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