International Journal of Legal Medicine

, Volume 132, Issue 5, pp 1477–1484 | Cite as

Cranial secular change from the nineteenth to the twentieth century in modern German individuals compared to modern Euro-American individuals

  • Katharina JellinghausEmail author
  • Katharina Hoeland
  • Carolin Hachmann
  • Andreas Prescher
  • Michael Bohnert
  • Richard Jantz
Original Article


Studying secular changes on human skulls is a central issue in anthropological research, which is however insufficiently investigated for modern German populations. With our study, we focus on morphological cranial variations within Germans during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. To study this, we recorded different facial landmarks from a cohort study of about 540 German individuals of different age and sex by calculating their cranial size, shape dimensions, and cranial module and cranial capacity to get information about variations occurring during the decades. According to this, measured variables for Germans and Americans, to which we compared our results, were maximum cranial length (glabello-occipital length), basion-bregma height (BBH), basion-nasion length (BNL), maximum cranial breadth (XCB), and cranial base breadth (AUB). Cranial size was calculated as the geometric mean of GOL, BBH, and XCB. Samples were organized into quarter century birth cohorts, with birth years ranging from 1800 to 1950. One-way ANOVA was used to test for variation among cohorts. Over the past 150 years, Americans and Germans showed significant parallel changes, but the American cranium remained relatively higher, with a longer cranial base, as well as narrower than the German cranium. Our results should also lead to the extension of the range of populations listed and investigated for Fordisc®, a forensic software to identify unknown individuals as from their skeletal remains or just parts of them. Fordisc cannot provide a satisfying identification of European individuals yet because the database is missing enough European reference samples.


Forensic anthropology Secular change Identification Cranial secular change 



The authors would like to acknowledge and thank Dr. Michael Francken, Prof. Prescher, Dr. Karl-Heinz Schiwy-Bochat, Prof. Matthias Graw, Dr. Stephanie Holley, Dr. Birgit Großkopf, Thomas Struchholz, Helmuth Schlereth, Thomas and Kevin Volk, Prof. Thomas Riepert, David Hunt, PhD, Douglas Owsley, PhD, Prof. Ursula Wittwer-Backofen, Katrin Koel-Abt, PhD, and Barbara Teßmann for providing the skull material and furthermore Laura Manthey, Sajid Matin, and Jana Geiger for data collection and making thus our investigations possible.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


  1. 1.
    Henneberg M (1988) Decrease of human skull size in the Holocene. Hum Biol 60:395–405PubMedGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    Jantz RL, Jantz LM (2016) The remarkable change in Euro-American cranial shape and size. Hum Biol 88(1):56–64CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    Jonke E, Prossinger H, Bookstein FL, Schaefer K, Bernhard M, Freudenthaler JW (2008) Secular trends in the European male facial skull from the Migration Period to the present: a cephalometric study. Eur J Orthod 30(6):614–620CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Rock WP, Sabieha AM, Evans RIW (2006) A cephalometric comparison of skulls from the fourteenth, sixteenth and twentieth centuries. Br Dent J 200(1):33–37CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Floyd R, Fogel RW, Harris B, Hong SC (2011) The changing body: health, nutrition, and human development in the western world since 1700. Cambridge University Press, New YorkCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    Jantz RL, Meadows Jantz L (2000) Secular change in craniofacial morphology. Am J Hum Biol 12:327–338CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    Weisensee KE, Jantz RL (2011) Secular changes in craniofacial morphology of the Portuguese using geometric morphometrics. Am J Phys Anthropol 145:548–559CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    Wescott DJ, Jantz RL (2005) Assessing craniofacial secular change in American blacks and whites using geometric morphometry. In: Slice DE (ed) Modern morphometrics in physical anthropology, Kluwer/Plenum, New York, pp 231–245Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Weisensee KE, Jantz RL (2016) An examination of the differential effects of the modern epidemiological transition on cranial morphology in the United States and Portugal. Hum Biol 88(1):30–37CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    Proença HHFA, Slavicek R, Cunha E, Sato S (2014) A 3D computerized tomography study of changes in craniofacial morphology of Portuguese skulls from the eighteenth century to the present. Int J Stomatol Occlusion Med 7(2):33–45CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Angel JL (1976) Colonial to modern skeletal change in the USA. Am J Phys Anthropol 45(3):723–735CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. 12.
    Cameron N, Tobias PV, Fraser WJ, Nagdee M (1990) Search for secular trends in calvarial diameters, cranial base height, indices, and capacity in South African Negro crania. Am J Hum Biol 2(1):53–61CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. 13.
    Ousley SD, Jantz RL, Freid D (2009) Understanding race and human variation: why forensic anthropologists are good at identifying race. Am J Phys Anthropol 139(1):68–76CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. 14.
    Manthey L, Jantz RL, Bohnert M, Jellinghaus K (2016) Secular change of sexually dimorphic cranial variables in Euro-Americans and Germans. Int J Legal Med 131(4):1113–1118CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. 15.
    Jantz RL, Ousley SD (2005) Fordisc, version 3.1. Knoxville, TN: University of TennesseeGoogle Scholar
  16. 16.
    Boas F (1911) Changes in bodily form of descendants of immigrants (final report). Reports of the Immigration Commission 38. Government Printing Office, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  17. 17.
    Hulse FS (1964) Exogamy and heterosis. Yearb Phys Anthropol 9:240–257Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Barbujani G, Sokal RR (1991) Zones of sharp genetic change in Europe are also linguistic boundaries. PNAS 87:1816–1819CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. 19.
    Novembre J, Johnson T, Bryc K, Kutalik Z, Boyko AR, Auton A, Indap A, King KS, Bergmann S, Nelson MR, Stephens M, Bustamante CD (2008) Genes mirror geography within Europe. Nature 456(7218):98–101CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  20. 20.
    Alba RD, Golden RM (1986) Patterns of ethnic intermarriage in the United States. Soc Forces 65:202–223CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. 21.
    Malina RM (1979) Secular changes in size and maturity: causes and effects. Monogr Soc Res Child Dev 179:59–120CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. 22.
    Schmidt IM, Jorgensen MH, Michaelsen KF (1995) Height of conscripts in Europe: is postneonatal mortality a predictor? Ann Hum Biol 22:57–67CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. 23.
    Jantz RL (2004) The meaning and consequences of morphological variation. In Understanding race and human variation conference, “race and human variation: setting an agenda for future research and education.” Alexandria, VA: September, pp 12–14Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    Corsini CA, Viazzo PP (1997) Introduction: Recent advances and some open question in the long-term study of infant and child mortality. In: The decline of infant and child mortality: The European Experience: 1750–1990, Kluwer Law International, The Hague, The Netherlands, pp xiii-xxxiGoogle Scholar
  25. 25.
    Ramsthaler F, Kreutz K, Verhoff MA (2007) Accuracy of metric sex analysis of skeletal remains using Fordisc based on a recent skull collection. Int J Legal Med 121(6):477–482CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Katharina Jellinghaus
    • 1
    Email author
  • Katharina Hoeland
    • 2
  • Carolin Hachmann
    • 1
  • Andreas Prescher
    • 3
  • Michael Bohnert
    • 1
  • Richard Jantz
    • 4
  1. 1.Institute of Forensic MedicineJulius-Maximilians-UniversityWürzburgGermany
  2. 2.Department of ChemistryUniversity of TennesseeKnoxvilleUSA
  3. 3.Institute of Molecular and Cellular Anatomy Medical FacultyRWTH Aachen UniversityAachenGermany
  4. 4.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of TennesseeKnoxvilleUSA

Personalised recommendations