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The Evolution of Racial Pelvis Variation

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JP Rushton

Richard Lynn

L:inda Gottfredson

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It’s well-known that blacks have narrower hips than whites (Rushton, 1997; Handa et al, 2008). These pelvic differences then account for part of the variation in elite sporting events such as sprinting and jumping (Entine, 2000). These pelvic differences are the result of climatic variation and sexual selection.

The evolution of the pelvis is due to bipedalism. We are bipeds because of our S-shaped spine, which helps us to cope with differing loads. The human pelvis had to evolve in two ways—to make birthing babies easier and to become more efficient for bipedal walking. Termed the ‘obstetric dilemma’, it has implications for osteoarthritis in both men and women (Hogervorst, Heinse, and de Vos, 2009). Having a more efficient bipedal gait meant the body could allocate energy to other parts of the body—mainly our growing brains/neuronal count. Over time, the brain grew while the pelvis had to shrink for more efficient bipedalism. The pelvis also got narrower in our evolution, being wider in Australopithicenes, while becoming more narrow when erectus appeared—which is the first instance of a humanlike pelvis in the fossil record—which increased how far we could travel as well as reduce our energy expenditure (Lieberman, et al, 2006). Further discussion can be found in my article Man the Athlete.

So we began evolving a narrower pelvis in comparison to our ancestors because it was more efficient for heat dissipation. Smaller trunks are more efficient for heat dissipation (Lieberman, 2015), whereas wider trunks are more efficient for thermoregulation in colder climes (Weaver and Hublin, 2008; Weaver, 2009; Gruss and Schmidt, 2015). Now, simply applying this logic to Eurasians and Africans (I am grouping East Asians and Europeans together since they were a single breeding population up until about 23,000-6,500ya), we can see one reason why that population has wider pelves than Africans.

When anatomically modern humans (AMH) left Africa between 50-100kya, human skeletal morphology was just like modern-day Africans’ today. When Man migrated into northerly climes, however, a wider pelvis was needed to retain heat in colder climes (Gruss and Schmidt, 2015). So, along with a wider pelvis evolving due to climatic demands on the body, as we migrated north the human brain expanded due to the climate of the area, along with expanding the pelvis to better thermoregulate (which a bigger brain also does in northerly climes). I did argue two months back (and added to Skoyles’ (1999) theory) that brain size increased for expertise capacity and not IQ since Arctic people needed more tools, as well as tools that were more complex, in comparison to peoples who evolved in a hotter climate. So selection then occurred for larger brains and pelvis due to the demand for thermoregulation and bigger brains—which then led to earlier births and more helpless babes, which higher levels of intelligence were then needed to care for them (Piantadosi and Kidd, 2016). The helplessness of infants predicts the intelligence of adults in the primate genera (Piantadosi and Kidd, 2016), so I will assume that this holds within primate species as well (I am not able to locate a citation that this doesn’t hold within the primate genera; if I am in error, please provide a citation). Since African children are born earlier and  more mature than Eurasian children who are born slightly later and more helpless/less developed, this is one reason why Eurasians have higher levels of intelligence than Africans (which is independent of any direct effects of climate I may add!).

So since Eurasians needed a larger brains to make more tools in the Arctic/colder climes, their brains needed to expand in size for increased expertise capacity, which would then have further selected for wider pelves in Eurasian women. Climatic variation caused the wider hips/bigger brains in Eurasians, which then allowed the evolution of larger brains in comparison to those who remained in Africa.

Finally, the obstetric dilemma has been recently called into question; there is evidence that a wider pelvis does not increase locomotor costs in humans (Warrener et al, 2015), a treadmill tracked their gait, as well as the motion of their pelvis. This study is used as evidence that the obstetric dilemma is wrong—they argue that there is no trade-off between narrower hips in men and wider hips in women.  However, as the authors point out, all subjects in the study walked/ran at the same speed. Let’s say that the speed was heightened; do you think the women/men with wider pelves would have had the same locomotor costs as the men/women with narrower pelves? The answer is, obviously, no.

The pelvis of all of the races of Man has evolved the way they are due to environmental/climatic demands. A wider pelvis is better for thermoregulation in colder climates, while a narrower pelvis/body is more efficient for heat loss (Gruss and Schmidt, 2015).

Thus, we can look at the evolution of brain size/pelvic size in a few ways: 1) The amount of tools/complexity of the tools in the area that led to a need for an increase in brain size for more ‘chunks’ (Gobet and Simon, 1998), which then—along with colder climates—selected for larger brains and a wider body/pelvis which made birthing babes with large heads/brains easier along with helping to conserve heat due to the wider body (Gruss and Schmidt, 2015); 2) Since people in higher altitudes needed a high amount of expertise to survive, further selection for bigger brains, wider pelves occurred because of this; 3) Africans have smaller pelves in comparison to Eurasians because they evolved in hotter climes and didn’t have the amount of tools that peoples in more northerly climes did—which also increased brain size; 4) putting this all together, we can say that because Africans live in hotter climates, they need narrow pelves in order to lose body heat; Eurasians, after they migrated into more northerly climes, needed a wider body/pelvis in order to retain heat. When Man migrated north, he needed the ability to become an expert in, say, tool-making and thus needed a bigger brain for more informational chunks (Simon and Gobet, 1998; Skoyles, 1999). Due to this, Eurasians have wider pelves since they needed larger brains for a higher expertise capacity (Skoyles, 1999).

When Man migrated north, he needed the ability to become an expert in, say, tool-making and thus needed a bigger brain for more informational chunks (Simon and Gobet, 1998; Skoyles, 1999). Due to this, Eurasians have wider pelves than Africans; so they can birth larger-brained children. The width of the female pelvis, too, was shaped by sexual selection (Lassek and Gaulin, 2009). Therefore, the evolution of the modern pelvis in human populations comes down to climatic variation, which, in turn, affects how large of a brain the babe is able to have. Climate constrains brain size in either ‘direction’, big or small. We don’t even need to look at the variation within modern Homo sapiens to see the pattern in pelvic size we do today; because the pelvic differences noted among Man definitely were in effect millions of years ago, with hominids in colder climates having wider pelves while hominids in warmer climates had narrower pelves.

Along with everything above, the evolution of the human pelvis has a few implications for the human races today. Some recent studies have shown that there is no obstetric dilemma at all, with birth complications being caused by babies with higher weights than in our ancestral past, due to environmental mismatches causing higher-weight babies (Warrener et al, 2015; Betti, 2017), which was also beneficial for the evolution of our large brains (Cunnane and Crawford, 2003) with the largest amount of cortical neurons in the animal kingdom. However, marked differences in locomotion would be seen in people who had wide pelves compared to narrow pelves; which is what we see in elite running competitions: the elite runners have narrower pelves. So wider pelves don’t impede normal bipedal walking, but it does impede being able to efficiently run, as evidenced in participants of elite sprinting and marathon competitions. Looking at champion athletes and studying their locomotion (along with other traits as I’ve covered here) you can see that those with narrower pelves win more competitions than those with wider pelves (and happen to have different muscle fiber competition, fat distribution/percent, and morphology).

Racial differences in the pelvis explain the reasons behind why a certain race dominates in certain elite competitions; it largely comes down to skeletal morphology. These skeletal differences have evolutionary underpinnings, with the same pelvic differences seen in hominins that evolved in colder/warmer climates in the past. These pelvic differences (along with body fat percentage/distribution, musculoskeletal morphology, muscle fiber type, lean mass percentage, lower Vo2 max, poorer running economy, a larger Q-angle [4.6 degrees greater than men], etc) are why women are less efficient runners. People with wider hips are more likely to have be endomorphic while people with narrower hips are more likely to be ecto and meso. Not surprisingly, people from northerly climes consistently win WSM competitions whereas East and West Africans dominate bodybuilding and sprinting/marathons due to having a narrower pelvis and other advantageous morphological traits that lead to success in the sport. Nevertheless, pelvic differences between the races largely come down to differences in climate, which was also seen in ancient hominins. These pelvic differences further lead to racial differences in elite sporting competition.

References

Betti, L. (2017). Human Variation in Pelvic Shape and the Effects of Climate and Past Population History. The Anatomical Record,300(4), 687-697. doi:10.1002/ar.23542

Cunnane, S. C., & Crawford, M. A. (2003). Survival of the fattest: fat babies were the key to evolution of the large human brain. Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology Part A: Molecular & Integrative Physiology,136(1), 17-26. doi:10.1016/s1095-6433(03)00048-5

Dr. John R. Skoyles (1999) HUMAN EVOLUTION EXPANDED BRAINS TO INCREASE EXPERTISE CAPACITY, NOT IQ. Psycoloquy: 10(002) brain expertise

Entine, J. (2000). Taboo: why Black athletes dominate sports and why we are afraid to talk about it. New York: PublicAffairs.

Gobet, F., & Simon, H. A. (1998). Expert Chess Memory: Revisiting the Chunking Hypothesis. Memory,6(3), 225-255. doi:10.1080/741942359

Gruss, L. T., & Schmitt, D. (2015). The evolution of the human pelvis: changing adaptations to bipedalism, obstetrics and thermoregulation. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences,370(1663), 20140063-20140063. doi:10.1098/rstb.2014.0063

Hogervorst, T., Heinse W.B., & de Vos J., (2009) Evolution of the hip and pelvis. Acta Orthopaedica, 80:sup336, 1-39, DOI: 10.1080/17453690610046620

Lieberman, D. E., Raichlen, D. A., Pontzer, H., Bramble, D. M., & Cutright-Smith, E. (2006). The human gluteus maximus and its role in running. Journal of Experimental Biology,209(11), 2143-2155. doi:10.1242/jeb.02255

Lieberman, D. E. (2015). Human Locomotion and Heat Loss: An Evolutionary Perspective. Comprehensive Physiology, 99-117. doi:10.1002/cphy.c140011

Piantadosi, S. T., & Kidd, C. (2016). Extraordinary intelligence and the care of infants. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,113(25), 6874-6879. doi:10.1073/pnas.1506752113

Rushton J P (1997). Race, Evolution, and Behavior. A Life History Perspective (Transaction, New Brunswick, London).

Handa, V. L., Lockhart, M. E., Fielding, J. R., Bradley, C. S., Brubakery, L., Cundiffy, G. W., … Richter, H. E. (2008). Racial Differences in Pelvic Anatomy by Magnetic Resonance Imaging. Obstetrics and Gynecology, 111(4), 914–920.

Warrener, A. G., Lewton, K. L., Pontzer, H., & Lieberman, D. E. (2015). A Wider Pelvis Does Not Increase Locomotor Cost in Humans, with Implications for the Evolution of Childbirth. PLoS ONE, 10(3), e0118903.

Weaver, T. D., & Hublin, J. (2009). Neandertal birth canal shape and the evolution of human childbirth. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,106(20), 8151-8156. doi:10.1073/pnas.0812554106

Weaver, T. D. (2009). The meaning of Neandertal skeletal morphology. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,106(38), 16028-16033. doi:10.1073/pnas.0903864106

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