Humans evolve over time. Most people do not notice that our jaws are becoming smaller as we evolve. In this episode, George Richard Scott, the Author of The Anthropology of Modern Human Teeth (1997), unlocks the secrets behind the morphological characteristics of jaws. He also provides insights into how the evolution into this modern society negatively changes the apex of human physical stature. George dives even deeper into the Anthropology of Modern Human Teeth and touches on the diet and its impact on our teeth. Get to know more from George as he delves into tooth morphology.

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The Future Of Our Jaws – A Conversation With George Richard Scott

We have Dr. Richard Scott with us in this episode. I’m excited to speak with him because he’s a biological anthropologist and a well-known expert on the jaws and the teeth. It’s something that is currently evolving as we’re looking at it in the recent future and history. Dr. Scott, tell us a little bit about what your field of expertise is, and then we’re going to talk about where we’re going as a species.

I went to graduate school in the late ’60s and early ’70s in what was called Physical Anthropology at the time. It’s now shifted more to Biological Anthropology. My research for my dissertation was on the genetics of tooth crown morphology. An NIH Genetics Training Grant supported me through four years of doing that research on family studies.

I’m a dental anthropologist. I’ve done other things. My mentor is also into cannibalism. I’ve fooled around with cannibalism a little bit since we’re very close to the side of the Donner Party because I’m in Reno, Nevada, and Truckee, California, where the Donner Party happened. It is only about 30 minutes away.

In 2004, I worked on an excavation of the Alder Creek site. That’s a secondary interest. Other than that, I have worked with teeth for a very long time. Although I’m a specialist in tooth crowns and root morphology, I’ve done everything. I’ve done crown wear, tooth size, stress markers on the teeth, and oral tori. I love oral tori. I published papers on both palatine and mandibular torus.

For those of you who aren’t familiar, tori are these bony protrusions inside your mouth that are usually located on the lower jaw and sometimes also on the upper jaw as well. I’m glad that we started with dental morphology because one of the things that I know happening right now is that we are evolving as a species.


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When people think about the most common tooth that is removed, they think about their wisdom teeth, which is a remnant from when we were cavemen on the African Savannah. We had much larger jaws and a much different diet. Tell us a little bit about that and the evolution that you see in why a lot of people need their wisdom teeth to be removed.

I teach both Primate Evolution and Paleoanthropology. I assure you, other primates do not have an issue with wisdom teeth. Although, I will tell you one interesting thing, and maybe your audience doesn’t know that there is one family of primates that has a dental formula. They have lost their third molars. Those are the callitrichids in South America, the marmosets and the tamarinds.

I was going to say all primates have third molars, but then I remember the marmosets and tamarinds do not have third molars. Coming on up through the hominoids, they are apes and hominins. You go back into the Miocene which extends back 23 million years ago. You look at all the jaws and teeth of Miocene hominoids, they all have third molars.

The interesting thing, and this is true of primates too, is that the third molars are usually the largest tooth. They are not only there invariably. They’re also the largest. By the time we get to hominids say four million years ago, that is still true. That remains true for a time but about two million years ago, and it’s probably coincident with the greater dependence on meat eating. That may be through hunting or scavenging, but there’s a lot of indirect evidence that hominids started eating more meat around that time. Their brains and body size got bigger. The teeth got smaller.



That set the course for the next two million years as teeth over the course of time, generally got smaller. The interesting thing about that is that the teeth that get smaller first are the most distal members of a tooth group. A tooth group or a tooth district is the first, second, and third molar. The tooth that starts getting smaller first is the third molar. Over the course of ten million years, that continues to occur and the second molar then starts getting smaller.

In modern people, we see exactly the opposite tooth size sequence that we saw in earlier hominids because, in modern people, M1 is the biggest tooth, M2 is the next biggest, and M3 is the smallest tooth. I think missing third molars is a part of this overall evolutionary trend to tooth size reduction. Now, populations are often missing third molars.

I have a few questions when you’re saying that. We used to eat only plants. Now, we’ve transitioned to more of a median diet over the course of the past two million years and our teeth are getting smaller because of that. Why does that happen? When you’re a meat eater, why is that something that requires smaller teeth?

It’s because meat is less abrasive than plant products. The early australopithecines were probably eating a lot of roots and underground storage plants in addition to leaves and fruits. Orangutans, for example, eat hard parts that require a good significant bite and a lot of mastication. Remarkably, meat requires less chewing. When cooking starts, that accelerates the process even more.

There’s still some question as to when the hominids were able to use and control fire, but it could be somewhere between 500,000 and 1 million years ago. By the time you get to some of the hominids in Europe about 500,000 years ago, their jaws are still fairly large, but their teeth are getting smaller. We can only assume that it reflects the kind of diet that they’re focusing on.

I don’t know if your readers are familiar with this, but between 1 and 3 million years ago, there is a distinct dichotomy in hominids between what are called the robust australopithecines and the gracile australopithecines. The robust australopithecines have enormous molars. Not only do they have enormous molars, they have enormous premolars. Because of that, their anterior teeth are greatly reduced in size. Their diet focused almost exclusively on crushing and grinding. What you see in a robust australopithecine is what you see in ungulates that are grazers and browsers where the pre-molars are incorporated into the molar row. You don’t see that with the pre-molars.

When you’re talking about the evolution of the teeth, I feel like I understand what you’re saying about teeth size, but the jaw size is also decreasing, correct?


I went to the catacombs in France, and I’ve been to the catacombs in Rome. Those people have perfect teeth. This is before orthodontics and braces. What do we know about the widespread need for kids and braces these days?

I’ve done much the same thing. I’ve scored tooth crown root morphology of all kinds of people, including Europeans. We scored almost 1,000 Hungarians that dated between the 5th century and the 17th century. They had relatively little tooth crowding. Your observation is very much in line with my claim on the TED-Ed which brought me to your attention initially.

I think the tooth crowding, and I’ve talked to dentists about this too, seems to be primarily a product of the last couple of hundred years associated with changes in food processing after the Industrial Revolution. It’s not just tied to agriculture. It seems like tooth and jaw sizes were declining at about the same pace, but then all of a sudden, our teeth weren’t stressing our jaws as we did in earlier times. Jaw size is more plastic than tooth size. Tooth size is under strong genetic control.

If you look at hunter-gatherer societies that exist right now, let’s say on the plains of the African Savannah, there are still societies that exist entirely with a hunter-gatherer social structure. Those people have perfectly straight teeth. You’re saying that because they have more chewing in their diet, it’s a tougher diet than their jaws are stimulated to grow and they don’t have crowding? Is that what you’re saying?

Yes. I can give you a good example of what happens. I taught at the University of Alaska for 24 years. I studied a lot of Inuit denticians. The dentists in Alaska would sometimes tell me that with the adoption of European dietary elements, especially highly processed foods in the 1930s, all of a sudden, the prehistoric Inuit never had tooth crowding. I’ll tell you something ironic about that. They not only didn’t have tooth crowding but they have the highest frequency of third moral agenesis in the world even though they have plenty of space in their jaws. It’s probably twice as high as you find in Europeans.

With the adoption of European dietary elements, especially highly processed foods, suddenly, the prehistoric Inuit never had tooth crowding but with the highest frequency of third molar genesis.

What the dentist noted to me was that with the adoption of European processed foods, all of a sudden, there was tooth crowding. Because orthodontia in the villages was not practical, they started pulling a lot of pre-molars. I know that’s pretty standard practice even in an American society. When there’s tooth crowding, sometimes pulling a pre-molar is good enough to take care of a crowding issue.

I feel like a lot of this stuff is anecdotal. I see this in skull size and jaw size throughout history. I’m making my own determinations based on things that I hear from experts like yourself but I don’t know the science behind it. What is the mechanism for this? Is it just something that we know through population studies? Do we know the causative factors and how those causative factors cause the outcomes?

There are a lot of studies on human plasticity. Unfortunately, it’s hard to experiment with humans but when I was putting that TED-Ed together, I did find two sets of experiments where they had two groups of squirrel monkeys. One group they fed a diet that had very refined food that didn’t require much mastication. The other group, they fed traditional squirrel monkey food.

There was more crowding in the group that was fed a diet of highly processed food. They did the same thing with a bunch of hyraxes. You can see plasticity in many arenas. Human stature is subject to great plasticity. It’s the skeleton’s response to two things, nutrition and stress. The physical stress is placed upon it.

When I was looking at prehistoric Inuit samples. They put a great deal of stress on their skeleton. They show pronounced musculoskeletal markers. Their jaws were very much the same. I don’t know if you’re familiar with this, but a fellow back in the 1930s wanted to estimate the bite force in native populations in Alaska. Given your field, you probably know all about this. He put a nasal goniometer between the first molars and had them bite down. I can still remember the averages for males and females. The average for males was 280 pounds per square inch and for females was 240.

For American White athletes, it was 110. Eskimos or Inuit could generate enormous bite force. Given your interest in craniofacial architecture, I think you would find it very interesting how the Inuit’s skull is of such a nature that the way the jaws are pulled in and the temporal muscles are hypertrophied, they can generate enormous bite force.

When I think about skeletal growth and where we’re going as a society, first off, we’re all getting taller because of better nutrition and the forces are getting less. Is that all we know about how bones and jaws grow? Is it that simple? Obviously, it’s not. It’s more complex, but do we know the physiology of how this happens specifically in regards to the evolution over time? From where we were 200 years ago to where we are now, there’s this hypothesis that’s out there about processed foods, but what is happening with the lack of force that causes our jaws to be smaller?

I’m not entirely sure about all those mechanisms but there is an old field that has been given new life in the last twenty years and that’s epigenetics. C.H. Waddington back in the ’40s and ’50s talked about the epigenetic landscape and everything. It wasn’t until they were able to tie genomics into genetics that they were able to see some of these things.

The point of epigenetics for your audience is that it is where you can have changes take place in terms of the genes that moderate development without an actual change in the DNA sequence. What epigenetics does is it will either promote or inhibit the DNA from producing an end product or a protein. I’m sure you’re familiar with the Dutch Hunger thing from around World War II. The interesting thing is how this can be transmitted from one generation to the next. It’s not just DNA that’s transmitted. Sometimes, the sins of the fathers can be passed on to the offspring.

Epigenetics will either promote or inhibit DNA from producing an end product or a protein. Sometimes the sins of the fathers can be passed on to the offspring.

They say that about smoking. It’s two generations before a history of smoking gets deleted from the gene pool. That’s something that we don’t talk about enough. I think that epigenetics in regards to the benefits of epigenetics are very much talked about and that you can change your genes to benefit you. I don’t think that we talk enough about the choices that you make now affecting future offspring in the negative, specifically in regards to smoking. That’s something that we talk about that will affect you if you’re pregnant, but it’s not something that’s talked about as a lifestyle before and after pregnancy.

My concern is that we’re undergoing this dysevolution process. We’re not evolving to become more competitive. We’re evolving to become less competitive and more prone to disease and all of these things. Am I wrong in that? I’m only looking at it from a negative light. I see a lot of these problems that are happening on a much more rapid basis. The whole purpose of this show is to inspire people to be hopeful about the future. I see that this thing is a societal issue. Nobody is going to give up on their soft food. Everybody loves French fries and ice cream. Am I wrong in that? How do you see a way to fix that?


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I’m not sure I’m into the fixing business, but I do know that people should at least be made more wary of the various environmental inputs that can affect their health and the health of their offspring. Things like pollution and food additives, I don’t even know how many things are out there besides smoking that can have an impact on the epigenetics machinery like autoimmune diseases.


FSP - DFY 12 | Jaw Morphology


When I was young, I’d never even heard of autoimmune diseases. They’re like peanut allergies and things like that. Those things seem to be so much more ubiquitous than they used to be. To put a positive spin on things, I’m not sure I can do that except to encourage people to be more wary of how the environment can alter them, and in some cases, their offspring.

Specifically, when it comes to jaw size, you see a lot of new companies coming out with hard gum and jaw exercise machines. Is there any credence to that? How do you feel about that?

I don’t know. I know in the TED-Ed, I ended with something like that. If we could somehow exercise our jaws the way we exercise our bodies to stimulate growth to the point where our jaws matched our teeth better. I honestly don’t know though. In earlier times, the behaviors that placed stress on the jaws and dentition were habitual. They occurred naturally. They occurred every day.

If you did something like that, for example, 30 minutes a day, I don’t know how that would compare to something that was a normal activity in earlier times. It may be a step in the right direction and hopefully, folks in your field and other areas of developmental biology will do some experiments with things like that. It’s going to have to be over a pretty long period of time. If you follow kids from the eruption of their permanent teeth until they’re eighteen, if you can get money from the NIH for a ten-year grant, maybe you can do that.

I think that we don’t understand growth in general, whether it’s the craniofacial complex, the face, jaws, or even your arms. I don’t think it’s something that we understand, but taking a bird’s eye view of it, you’re close enough to anthropology in the general aspect to know some other things that might be dysevolution that’s happening. Many people don’t even know about what’s going on with the face.

To keep everybody up to speed, Dr. Scott had a video that he made for TED-Ed, which he’s referencing many times that talks about the evolution of the jaws, how our jaws are getting smaller, and all of the issues that are arising with that. My point is many people don’t know that to begin with. What are some other things that are making us less competitive as a species? What are some other things that are going on that might be interesting to people that didn’t know about that?

Do you mean in the dentition or in general?

Just in general.

I travel the world looking at teeth. I’ll give you an example. I was in Spain a few years ago, and I’d eaten a lot of Spanish food so I went to a Burger King. There was a warning on the wall that said, “Warning. We serve American-sized portions.” It’s my experience traveling around the world. I’ve been going to Europe for almost 50 years. In 1976, I went to Switzerland for a month to study Inuit skeletons.

Everybody was skinny. Everybody was thin. Maybe I went back in 1986 and I think it was still pretty much that way, but I’ve been back another dozen times and the obesity problem is not just a problem in the US. I spent a sabbatical leave in Australia. It is almost as bad in Australia as it is in this country. That is dystopian, but we have to come to grips with cheap calories and how we can avoid fat storage and type 2 diabetes.

I know you’re trying to look at the positive things in the future, but there are some things and I’m a part of this. I’m on the border of type 2 diabetes myself, and it’s so hard in this day and age. That generates an enormous industry in fitness so there are fitness gyms all over the place. Whether or not people use those on a regular basis, I know some people will join 24 Hour Fitness or LA Fitness and have a subscription and not make a habit of going there. I speak from personal experience, so I know what I’m talking about. There are people in this country that are very concerned about their nutrition and fitness, but there are probably many more who are not. As you said before, French fries are loved by men.

They’re delicious. They’re so good. What are you seeing in the anthropological record that is a consequence of obesity and of our evolving social structure? I know that the jaws are one thing. I feel like it’s this low-hanging fruit that everybody knows about because they have to treat it. Everybody has a kid that has to be put through braces. There are certain things about anthropology that blow my mind.

For example, somebody was telling me that we measure the anthropological record in the sediment based on the number of chicken bones that are thrown. I don’t know if that’s accurate, but they call it the Anthropocene Era because we’ve been eating so much chicken that we throw it in. I don’t know if that’s a rumor and it’s a false wives tale. The fact of the matter is we’re entering into this conversation and I feel like there are so many things that I want to ask of you, but I don’t know. What is going on with the current society that you could tell us that you’re seeing in the anthropological record?

I’m a little confused. I can talk about past populations and provide some context for the direction we’ve gone over the course of the Holocene. I tell my introductory students this all the time. Humans reached their peak form during the Upper Paleolithic between 12,000 and 40,000 years ago. These people were robust. They had brains that were bigger than modern brains.

The average brain size was between 1,400 and 1,500. It’s probably about 100 cubic centimeters less now. Our brains are smaller. Our bodies are smaller despite the second trend we’ve seen in recent times. That was not always true. If you go back to the Middle Ages and if you’ve ever seen the Suits of Armour in London, these guys were little. The secular trend is relatively recent.

Homo sapiens were larger in the past, then they got smaller. Now, were they getting big again?


This is not Neanderthals. These are Homo sapiens.


It’s what we are right now.

The Neanderthals are tall.

How tall were they?

The modern humans?

When you were talking about the apex, how tall were they?

They may not have been any taller than some of the tallest populations now. They’re probably 170 to 172 centimeters, 5’10”, or something like that on average. Sometimes I think people lose sight of the fact that humans are animals. When we started adopting cultural things to make our lives easier, we no longer have big canines to jump on prey and kill prey with. We had to use tools. Tool-using was a big revolution.

Over the course of time, basically, the Upper Paleolithic folks did not overeat. There were no grocery stores. They had to go out and earn their food. That involved a lot of movement. They were earlier hunter or gatherers but I’ll tell you something interesting. The Neanderthals, as far as I know, were limited to caves. Their subsistence round basically would involve moving out from a cave and then back out from a cave and back, etc.

Whereas, in the Upper Paleolithic, when we get to that point about 30,000 to 35,000 years ago, we start seeing open-air shelters, which means that these people could do seasonal rounds. They were on the move a lot. Not only were they moving around the landscape to better exploit certain resources during particular times of the year, but when they were in a particular camp, they would have to go out and hunt. Sometimes they’d have to chase down games. Sometimes they’d trap it. How they got it was hard work.

They were stressing their postcranial skeleton. When they’d bring that in to eat, they would oftentimes cook their food. That would help a bit. The teeth were not nearly as large as they were in earlier times, but at least they were stressing their jaws to a considerable extent. From a health standpoint, you hardly ever see cancer in those earlier populations.

I’ll tell you an interesting contrast between a hunting and gathering group and modern populations. A professor of mine did a study of osteoarthritis in prehistoric Inuit populations. Almost all of their osteoarthritis was in the wrists, the elbows, and the shoulder. Whereas osteoarthritis in American populations is in the ankle, the knee, and the hip. The Inuit were great from a lower limb standpoint. It was their upper limbs that they were stressing. However, in modern populations, the stress is on the lower joints, and much of that is related to being overweight.

In almost all prehistoric Inuit populations, osteoarthritis was in the wrists, elbows, and shoulder, whereas osteoarthritis in American populations is in the ankle, knee, and hip.

You answered my question very well. I apologize for the difficulty in asking it, but the fact of the matter is that we are seeing changes in modern society. The obesity epidemic and these modern maladies are causing changes in the way that human beings appear. The way that we are evolving is being affected by the negative. It’s interesting to look back at what you say is the apex of humanity’s physical stature. You said that they never died from cancer. Is that because they had a shorter lifespan? What was their lifespan like?

I was thinking about lifespan. Lifespan probably was less back in those days. There is evidence even with the Neanderthals of taking care of the elderly. I’ve seen Neanderthals that were almost edentulous. They would’ve had trouble eating and some Neanderthals had a lot of arthritis because they stressed their skeletons too. Some were amputees. They had amputated limbs. Margaret Mead even said that this is the hallmark of modern humans when they started taking care of those who could not take care of themselves.

Margaret Mead once said that the hallmark of modern humans was when they started taking care of those who could not take care of themselves.

I remember that in my college Anthropology class. It totally changed my perspective of how we’ve evolved as a species. Maybe lifespan might have been a thing. They might have been healthier but certainly, they were at the apex physically. There are two questions that I have. Number one, were they able to obtain the same amount of nutrients that we are in modern society? Theoretically, if you’re maximizing height or weight, they should be having the best nutrients. Did they have access to that when we were hunter-gatherers?

I’m sure if they had access to great food, and think about it, there were no additives. It was all grass-fed and organic. There were no pesticides or herbicides or anything like that. They had to worry about getting caught by a cave bear or a cave lion.

Some people think that not only is the advent of taking care of our compatriots part of the real marker of what it is to be human but many people think that what you eat and how you cook it and how you prepare it, flavor in general was this factor that caused us to expand rapidly. Not only were we getting adequate nutrients, but we were cooking them in such a way that made them tastier. How do you feel about that? Is that a controversial thing or is that an established hypothesis? I know that some anthropologists say taste was what caused us to develop.

The taste was after the age of discovery. The value placed on spices indicates that taste was very significant. In earlier times, it always makes me nervous when I buy bacon and it was covered with pepper. I love pepper, but I know in earlier times, they would cover the meat with pepper that was a little bit on the rancid side. Salt has been an incredibly valuable resource. Some cultures made their entire lives mining and hauling salt. Before refrigeration, think about how people had to store food.

It was dried and cured.

In Europe, you still see a lot of dried meats. You don’t see nearly as much of that in the United States. I remember in Switzerland when I went there, they would hang meat in a dry place. It’s like prosciutto. Prosciutto is the exemplar of that. In Spain, it’s jamon but that is a way of taking care of meat without it rotting or getting spoiled. In the Spice Islands in general, all kinds of spices came from the East Indies. One of Columbus’ motivations probably was to get to the Spice Islands and he ended up in the West Indies.

If these people had access to nutrients and they had access to taste and flavor and the ability to prepare it, were they also getting cavities or was that significantly less?

The cavities are interesting. I’ve studied the Greenlandic Norse, Medieval Norwegians, and Vikings. The Greenlandic Norse and Icelanders had no cavities at all. The Medieval Norwegians had some cavities, but they were mostly between the teeth, not on the tooth grounds. They were interstitial caries. The Vikings had the most caries. I’ve always been a little puzzled by that, but I’ve always thought that they were drinking mead. They loved their mead, which is an alcoholic beverage made out of honey.

People used to wear their teeth a lot quicker. When they’d wear their teeth, they basically eliminate all the little fissures and grooves on the crowns of the teeth, which are often exactly where the bacteria like to pull up until they bore holes into the pulp. Caries were definitely a lot lower in earlier times. In more recent times, caries exploded when they transplanted sugar cane to West Indies after the Age of Discovery. Sugar before that was very expensive. It was pretty much limited to people who had a lot of money. When everybody had access to sugar, caries rates went way up. They started wearing their teeth less and they had more refined sugar in their diet. Complex sugars are not the problem. It’s refined sugars.

Complex sugars are not the problem. It’s refined sugars.

You have refined sugars. Let’s say in the 1800s, many people have easy access to refined sugars. Has the technology of dentistry caught up to make that caries or cavities rate lower, or is it continuing to go higher because we’re having more and more options for us?

Not being a dentist, I’m not going to claim any expertise, but I do know this. Even when I was a boy, they put something on my teeth called plastic seals. I assume they still do that. They paint this on and then use ultraviolet light. I think the goal here is to prevent the lysogenic bacteria from finding a home in those fissures. I have a few caries. It didn’t work perfectly. I have three sons. I’m not sure about my oldest son, but my middle son who turns 34 has zero caries. He’s never had caries in his life. My younger son who used to have a real sweet tooth has had lots of caries. At one time, he had so many carries, they couldn’t do them all in one sitting.

It’s interesting because I know I will always query my students on this. There are a lot of students that have no caries whatsoever. There are others whose mouth is full of amalgams, crowns, and things. I know there’s a huge environmental component to this, but I cannot help but think that genetics plays some part in this as well. I don’t know because people very tremendously have calculus in their mouths. Some people have very self-cleansing mouths and some don’t. There’s so much going on inside the mouth that it’s hard to sort it all out.

I guess in regards to your own philosophies about health, this is your own opinion. Do you feel like some of these new things that are coming out like the paleo diet and the push towards becoming more like our Paleolithic ancestors, do you think that’s appropriate? Do you think that’s a bunch of marketing gimmicks? How do you feel about that?

When it’s possible to do that, it’s probably a pretty good idea. As I’ve said, the Paleolithic folks were in pretty darn good shape. That’s what they’re trying to emulate. They eat a lot of fiber to get protein. I’ve tried keto, but keto is the classic Inuit diet because they had hardly any carbohydrates or they had so few carbohydrates.

I worked on the Southern Peninsula in ’75 and our Inuit guide had greens that had been harvested and were preserved in seal oil. That’s how precious carbohydrates were. They have a super high fat, high protein diet. Carbohydrates, if you eat nothing but protein and fat and you go into ketogenesis, you can lose weight doing that. I lost weight doing that but it’s also been linked to Arctic hysteria.

If you eat nothing but protein and fat and you go into ketogenesis, you can lose weight.

When you are having a diet like that, what are their health outcomes? Are they living a long time? Are they susceptible to cardiovascular disease?

Interestingly, they have these various snips like fatty acid dehydrogenase. They have these genes in high frequency. There are a lot of omega-3s in their diet. They do not have many circulatory problems. Fat is not inherently bad. It’s the saturated fats that’ll get you. In the earlier times, they did not live very long though. The average lifespan was probably about 50.

What were they dying from? Is it trauma?

For one thing, their teeth have enormous stress. They show a lot of tooth wear and eventually, they’d lose all their teeth. I’ve seen skeletons that were so arthritic, they literally couldn’t bend their arms at the elbow. In earlier times, there used to be a thing called senicide. Obviously, it’s not practiced now, but some individuals would get to the point where life was so much on the edge that if you weren’t carrying your weight, you would say, “I’m going to make this decision to go out on an ice flow for my kids.” I don’t think we can even imagine how tough life was in earlier times.

I’m sitting here in air conditioning and talking to somebody halfway across the world. Even ten years ago, it’s tough to imagine what the next ten years are going to be like because we’re in this logarithmic growth phase. What about airways? How have they changed over the course of the past however many hundred years? I feel like that’s another big topic these days of how our airways have changed. We have significant rates of sleep apnea and people with high-vaulted palates. I don’t know if that’s an epigenetic thing because of us living inside. We’re exposed to allergens. People are mouth breathing more because their noses are stuffed up. Tell me a little bit more about what you know about that.

My experience there is almost entirely personal because I’ve only had two surgeries in my life. When I was fifteen, I had sinus surgery. Some people will have cavities and some don’t. Some have sinus problems and some don’t. I’ve looked at a lot of x-rays and you can see the maxillary and the frontal sinuses. There’s a lot of variation in those. For some reason, I’ve never even understood why I have so many sinus issues and other people have none. I can’t speak authoritatively about that, but I do know that sleep apnea and things like that are on the rise. What’s triggering that? As I said, I’m not an authority there.

Are you able to know what the airways of Paleolithic individuals or early hominids are like? It’s all soft tissue so it’s probably not available in the record.

All we can see directly are the dimensions of what we call nasal breadth and nasal height. I can tell you two things there that have always puzzled me because Neanderthals had enormous noses. They had very broad and high noses. They must have had a huge proboscis. They’ve always said, “That’s a cold adaptation because Neanderthals live during the height of the last glacial period.”

However, Inuit populations have very narrow nasal passages. They have the lowest nasal index in the world. If that’s supposed to be a cold adaptation, so what is it? Is it these broad Neanderthal noses or the narrow Inuit noses that are involved in the cold adaptation? People vary. It’s latitudinally graded though, excluding Neanderthals. As you go from the North to the South, the nasal index changes.

When you’re saying that it changes from the North to the South, that’s one thing. Other than the Neanderthals, with Homo sapiens specifically, does it change from the past thousand years to now?

Probably. I never think much about it. I’m usually looking at teeth. Noses don’t strike me one way or another. I haven’t noticed anything all that dramatic.

I did want to talk to you about one last thing. Anthropology is a hobby of mine. It’s one of the things I’m interested in. One of the theories that’s out there for why we have noses the way that we do and why we have less hair than other primates, is this theory about us being aquatic apes. That there was a certain time in our history when we were either in and around water for a long time. How do you feel about that? Is that a real theory or has it pretty much been debunked? How do you feel about that?

I think it’s a crock of rocks. I saw the Aquatic Ape Theory. Elaine Morgan was not an anthropologist. She was a little bit of a crackpot because I can still remember the description she had. The Pliocene was so hot and desiccating that these hominids got in the water just to keep cool. All of a sudden, not only did they lose their hair but they learned to be bipedal in the water. I do not subscribe to the Aquatic Ape Theory.

No worries. Not to end on too controversial a topic. I hope I don’t get canceled by the anthropology community. This was an interesting talk. I wish that we could talk more, but we are getting to the end of our time. At the end of our time, I always ask my guests three questions about the things that I would hope that I could have gotten to, but I wasn’t able to in the time that we were allotted or because the conversation was going in a certain direction.

Without further ado, this is one of the things I’d always ask my guests. A lot of the inspiration that I get from my work and from my passions is the science fiction and literature that I consume. Science fiction is a big part of my life and it is what makes me very hopeful about the future, especially when you see utopian science fiction where you have a human race that is in a better place than we are right now. What do you gain inspiration from when it comes to literature? Hopefully, you’re a science fiction buff like myself. If not, what are you reading that gets you passionate and gives you a zest for working?

Most of my reading is technical material, but I do like science fiction. One thing about science fiction, that ties into our general discussion now. I’m sure you’ve seen Close Encounters of the Third Kind. It’s just an example, and you’ve seen many of these. These little guys get off the big ship. They have two arms, two legs, a head, a mouth, and two eyes. They’re bilaterians.

I think the probability of a bilaterian development from an alien planet is extremely remote. My theory is if these people are aliens, they’re from another time and not another space. It’s people coming back in time. It is funny because the way they’re always portrayed is they have enormous heads, big brains, and little teeny jaws. I have no idea how their teeth would be portrayed.

They’re probably getting French fries directly delivered into their mouth without any teeth. I agree with you. I think that that’s something that’s interesting to see where you have science fiction and how it’s not only an idea of where we’re going as a species, but also a lot of the stuff like aliens and our thoughts of what we are is also consistent with how we think of ourselves. There might be some projection there when we think about these little gray aliens.

My wife and I were in Italy a few weeks ago, and we saw this group of models walking by. They have these long symmetrical faces with high cheekbones and long limbs. I was like, “They looked like a different species.” They’ve evolved. They almost looked like aliens, or what we would think aliens would look like.

Darwin came up with this theory of natural selection through a pretty intense study of the artificial selection of dogs, pigeons, sheep, and things like that. What you’re talking about, if you’re looking into the future, if there was some kind of breeding program, it could push humans off in a particular direction, but that is not a popular idea and I’m not proposing it.

I’ve heard that idea before around World War II.

To generate a certain type, it has to be by design and there has to be breathing involved, otherwise, it’s selecting this certain type for a certain activity, but it will dissipate. You’ll then have to find more people of that type. Ideas of beauty, when you think about that, you said you were in Italy. If you looked at the paintings from the Middle Ages, they placed a high premium on some fairly robust females. You did not see a lot of skinny models in these medieval paintings.

I agree. It’s interesting how beauty has changed with society as well. That’s cool that you talked about Close Encounters. It’s a good one. One of the things that I also ask my guests is where do you hope that we are in the next 100 years to make us the best version of ourselves? Specifically, your idea of the jaws getting smaller and us having this dysevolution process.

What I think of is we need to get back to our roots. We need to become more like the apex of the hunter-gatherer society so that we maximize what our bodies were created for, which is the hunter-gatherer lifestyle. What do you see us in 100 years? If you could get rid of all the French fries and make sure that this was Dr. Scott’s ideal utopian scenario, how does that look to you?

I wish I could be more optimistic about mankind, but given what’s happening in the world now, it makes me very nervous to think that one megalomaniac could set into action the destruction of the planet. That makes me so nervous that we don’t have more checks and balances on that. I honestly do not understand how throughout history, all these megalomaniacs, and I include not just people like Hitler, but people like Alexander the Great. How they were able to convince tens of thousands of young men to die basically supporting their egomaniacal goals? When are we going to change that?



That’s certainly a very glasses-half-empty kind of level. I have more faith in the human species. I think that we’ve had those people and terrible things may or may not have happened, but we’ve always survived and persevered. I have more faith in us. Certainly, I see what you’re saying. There is a certain thing about charisma that’s a little scary.

You have the ability to get a group together and you can do so much with a group. When I look at these types of things, I think of the Martin Luther King quote, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” I think it also bends towards human survival. I hope that you’re wrong.

I hope I’m wrong too. I have grandkids.

This is the last question. Are you doing anything in your research now that you feel is showing you that human beings are getting better? Is there anything that’s out there that is in the anthropological record like, “This portion of evolution might not be for the best, but this portion is getting for the better?” For example, we talked about how brain capacity was larger in the Paleolithic era, but we are all getting smarter. I think that’s a good thing. The more smart people we have out there and the more understanding there is, the more likely that we can become a better society through better technology and breakthroughs. What are some things in your field that you see that gives you hope for the future?

I was thinking more of things that make me nervous about them. We keep coming up with labor-saving devices. As I said before, we want to get back to things that made us a healthier more energetic group, but with things like artificial intelligence and virtual reality, I see these things about it. When I was growing up in the ’50s, I was outside most of the time riding my bicycle, having quad fights, and building forts. Now, sometimes kids hardly ever leave their houses. They’re tied up in video games. I sound like a nattering nabob of negativism.

My counterargument to that is that once robots become ubiquitous, we’ll have more free time to explore things like physical activity. The biggest issue is that we all come home at the end of the day from sitting in front of a computer screen and we’re exhausted. Nobody wants to go to the gym. What you want is that quick little fix of eating French fries to get you through to the next point.

When I’m on vacation, I want to go walking. I want to do that because I don’t have the added stress of needing to provide for my family or needing to get this done by the X deadline. It seems like when there are more hours in the day, personally, I don’t know how you feel, but I tend to do a little bit more physical activity. The video games thing is a real thing, but I’m thinking more about people who are over the age of eighteen and what they have access to themselves when they come home at the end of the day.

It is a changing world. I can see it in my students. I used to get into arguments with my dad that would go unresolved. Now, if I get into an argument, I say, “Let’s Google it.” You can do research on your phone anywhere you are. My fervent hope is that they found that happiness is coincident with education. Some of the most highly educated countries in Europe are the happiest.

Happiness is coincident with education. Some of the most highly educated countries in Europe are the happiest.

Finland is the happiest country in Europe and I think 81% of the people are college educated. I wish to God we could get college costs down so more people could get a college education because education opens your mind to the world. It makes you more tolerant and more empathetic. That’s what we need to see in the future. To get people to realize that there are good trends going on like the whole thing about diversity and inclusion. I grew up before civil rights and it was not good. Things are getting better in that regard.

There’s still a lot of intolerance, but most of that intolerance is grounded in ignorance. I’m hopeful. I’ve seen tremendous improvements in my lifetime in tolerance. We’re certainly not there yet, but I’m optimistic that we will ultimately become a more tolerant society where people are judged based on merit and not sex, gender, race, ethnicity, or anything like that.

That’s a cool note to end on. I appreciate speaking with you, Dr. Scott. This is a personal interest of mine. I enjoyed this conversation. For those of you who are tuning in, please feel free to follow Dr. Scott on his social media. He’s an interesting guy. Check out his TED Talk. It blew my mind. For those of you who are following us on a regular basis, I will see you in the future.


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About George Richard Scott

FSP - DFY 12 | Jaw MorphologyG. Richard Scott is a Foundation Professor of Anthropology at the University of Nevada, Reno. He earned his B.A. and PhD degrees in Anthropology at Arizona State University. After completing his degree in 1973, he taught at the University of Alaska Fairbanks from 1973 to 1997. After a short-lived retirement, he resumed his academic career at the University of Nevada, Reno in 2001. His specialty is dental anthropology, with a focus on human tooth crown and root morphology. He has written or edited five books in this area, including The Anthropology of Modern Human Teeth (1997), which came out as a second edition in 2018. Geographically, he has worked in the American Southwest, Alaska, the North Atlantic, Spain, and Hungary.


By: The Futurist Society