Our Ancestors’ Faces Evolved to Be Able to Take a Punch

Photo: Photo Illustration, Photos: Getty Images

Evolution has done a whole slew of awesome things for humankind (I’m looking at you, opposable thumbs), but a new study from the University of Utah suggests a rather surprising benefit it conferred on our ancestors. According to researchers David R. Carrier and Michael H. Morgan, our ancestors’ faces may have evolved to be able to take a punch.

We suggest that many of the facial features that characterize early hominins evolved to protect the face from injury during fighting with fists,” said Carrier and Morgan in their study. Researchers examined skeletons of australopiths, apelike ancestors of humans that went extinct 2 million years ago, and found that the strongest areas of their faces were the jaws, cheeks, eyes, and noses — the most likely targets in a fistfight. This was truer among males, who presumably did more fighting. This study disputes the previous theory that a diet of hard plants and nuts necessitated the robust facial structure.

Prehistoric Earth was a rough-and-tumble place. It was a struggle for every seed and berry, and if other australopiths tried to get in your way, you had to defend yourself. The human species has learned to use our words since then (except sometimes during spring break), so the size and strength of our facial bones has gradually evolved in the other direction over time, making us more vulnerable to being punched than we used to be. Keep that in mind during your next bar fight.

Our Ancestors’ Faces Evolved to Take a Punch