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Making Faces: The Evolutionary Origins of the Human Face

By: Adam S Wilkins(Author), Sarah Kennedy(Illustrator)

451 pages, 16 plates with 22 colour photos and colour illustrations; 56 b/w illustrations

Belknap Press

Hardback | Aug 2017 | #230866 | ISBN-13: 9780674725522
Availability: In stock
NHBS Price: £35.95 $47/€41 approx

About this book

Humans possess the most expressive faces in the animal kingdom. Adam Wilkins presents evidence ranging from the fossil record to recent findings of genetics, molecular biology, and developmental biology to reconstruct the fascinating story of how the human face evolved. Beginning with the first vertebrate faces half a billion years ago and continuing to dramatic changes among our recent human ancestors, Making Faces illuminates how the unusual characteristics of the human face came about – both the physical shape of facial features and the critical role facial expression plays in human society.

Offering more than an account of morphological changes over time and space, which rely on findings from paleontology and anthropology, Wilkins also draws on comparative studies of living nonhuman species. He examines the genetic foundations of the remarkable diversity in human faces, and also shows how the evolution of the face was intimately connected to the evolution of the brain. Brain structures capable of recognizing different individuals as well as "reading" and reacting to their facial expressions led to complex social exchanges. Furthermore, the neural and muscular mechanisms that created facial expressions also allowed the development of speech, which is unique to humans.

In demonstrating how the physical evolution of the human face has been inextricably intertwined with our species' growing social complexity, Wilkins argues that it was both the product and enabler of human sociality.

"Tracing our evolutionary history back to the emergence of the first vertebrates some 500 million years ago, Wilkins pairs biological and genetic studies with the archaeological record to examine how humans developed the most expressive faces in the animal kingdom. It was an intriguing transformation that also provided the foundation for some of our species' unique characteristics, including the neural and muscular mechanisms necessary for speech, the cognitive ability to interpret emotional responses, and thereby sociability and culture. The book [...] gives a truly fresh appreciation of the wonders of the human face – even if they are still lost on us first thing in the morning."
– Nicholas Bartos, Current World Archaeology

"This engaging and highly readable book offers a lucid account of the diverse areas of 'scientific investigation' that have shaped contemporary understanding of the evolution of the human face [...] [It] will appeal to any individual with an interest in human evolution and biology."
– T. Harrison, Choice

"Making Faces is a highly readable account of how and why the human face is the way it is. Wilkins lucidly weaves together over a century of research on the development, anatomy, and evolution with new provocative ideas."
– Daniel E. Lieberman, author of The Evolution of the Human Head

"Making Faces makes faces fascinating by opening a window onto an intriguing biological landscape. Lucid accounts of the roles played by genes, bones, muscle, and brain foreshadow provocative questions about race, sex, and psychology. Wilkins's elegant account is a guide not only to what we see in the mirror, but also to the latest and the best in human evolution."
– Richard Wrangham, author of Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human



1. Thinking about the Human Face as a Product of Evolution
2. How the Face Develops: From Early Embryo to Older Teenager
3. The Genetic Foundations of the Face
4. The Genetic Basis of Facial Diversity
5. History of the Face I: From Earliest Vertebrates to the First Primates
6. History of the Face II: From Early Primates to Modern Humans
7. Brain and Face Coevolution: Recognizing, Reading, and Making Faces
8. “Postspeciation”: The Evolving Face in Modern Humans
9. On Face Consciousness and the Future of the Face
10. Social Selection in the Shaping of the Human Face

Coda: Three Journeys

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Adam S. Wilkins is the author of The Evolution of Developmental Pathways and editor of the “Perspectives” section of Genetics.

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