Relationships between non‐metric skeletal traits and cranial size and shape

James M. Cheverud, Jane E. Buikstra, Elizabeth Twichell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

51 Scopus citations


A long‐standing controversy exists about the comparative utility of metric and non‐metric traits as biological indicators in population studies. We hypothesize that the underlying scale which determines the presence or absence of a cranial non‐metric trait is an expression of general and/or local size variation in the cranium. Therefore metric and non‐metric traits will share a common developmental determination. The hypothesis implies that the underlying scale of a non‐metric trait will be correlated with measures of cranial size and shape. Forty‐eight cranial metric and twenty‐five cranial non‐metric traits were scored on the left side of adult male crania from four North American Indian populations. New threshold traits were generated for each non‐metric trait by dichotomizing discriminant scores produced by discriminant function analysis. The discriminant analysis was performed using metric traits to discriminate between groups formed by non‐metric trait presence or absence. Every non‐metric trait tested was significantly correlated with its threshold trait in at least one population. The correlations were of moderate to high levels depending on the trait and population sample studied. This implies that metric and non‐metric traits share a moderate to high degree of developmental determination. The cause of these correlations may lie in the common effects that growth and development of the soft tissue and functional spaces of the cranium exert on both metric and non‐metric traits.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)191-198
Number of pages8
JournalAmerican journal of physical anthropology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1979
Externally publishedYes


  • Metric traits
  • Non‐metric traits
  • Skeletal biology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anatomy
  • Anthropology


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