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Cephalic index is the ratio of the maximum width of the head multiplied by 100 divided by its maximum length (i.e., in the horizontal plane, or front to back).

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Wiktionary: cephalic

The index was widely used by anthropologists in the early twentieth century to categorize human populations, and by Carleton S. Coon in the 1960s. Today it is mainly used to describe individuals' appearances and for estimating the age of fetuses for legal and obstetrical reasons.

The index is used to categorize animals, especially dogs and cats.

Cephalic index in human anthropology

The cephalic index was defined by Swedish professor of anatomy Anders Retzius (1796-1860) and first used in physical anthropology to classify ancient human remains found in Europe. The theory became closely associated with the development of racial anthropology in the 19th and early 20th centuries, when prehistorians attempted to use ancient remains to model population movements in terms of racial categories.

Human populations were characterized as either dolichocephalic (long headed), mesocephalic (moderate headed), or brachycephalic (broad headed).

The usefulness of the cephalic index was questioned by Giuseppe Sergi, who argued that cranial morphology provided a better means to model racial ancestry.[1] However Franz Boas studied the children of immigrants to the United States in 1910 to 1912, noting that the children's cephalic index differed significantly from their parents', implying that local environmental conditions had a significant impact on the development of head shape.[2]

Boas argued that if craniofacial features were so malleable in a single generation, then the cephalic index was of little use for defining race and mapping ancestral populations. Scholars such as Earnest A. Hooton continued to argue that both environment and heredity were involved. Boas did not himself claim it was totally plastic.

In 2002, a paper by Sparks and Jantz re-evaluated some of Boas' original data using new statistical techniques and concluded that there was a "relatively high genetic component" of head shape.[3] Ralph Holloway of Columbia University argues that the new research raises questions about whether the variations in skull shape have "adaptive meaning and whether, in fact, normalizing selection might be at work on the trait, where both extremes, hyperdolichocephaly and hyperbrachycephaly, are at a slight selective disadvantage."[2]

In 2003, anthropologists Clarence C. Gravlee, H. Russell Bernard, and William R. Leonard reanalyzed Boas' data and concluded that most of Boas' original findings were correct. Moreover, they applied new statistical, computer-assisted methods to Boas' data and discovered more evidence for cranial plasticity. [4].

In a later publication, Gravlee, Bernard and Leonard reviewed Sparks' and Jantz' analysis. They argue that Sparks and Jantz misrepresented Boas' claims, and that Sparks' and Jantz' data actually support Boas. For example, they point out that Sparks and Jantz look at changes in cranial size in relation to how long an individual has been in the United States in order to test the influence of the environment.

Boas, however, looked at changes in cranial size in relation to how long the mother had been in the United States. They argue that Boas' method is more useful, because the prenatal environment is a crucial developmental factor. [5]


Cephalic indices are grouped as in the following table:

Females Males Scientific term Meaning Alternative term
< 75 75.9 or lower dolichocephalic 'long-headed'
75 to 83 76 to 81 mesocephalic 'medium-headed' mesaticephalic; mesocranial
> 83 81.1 or higher brachycephalic 'short-headed' brachycranial

Technically, the measured factors are defined as the maximum width of the bones that surround the head, above the supramastoid crest (behind the cheekbones), and the maximum length from the most easily noticed part of the glabella (between the eyebrows) to the most easily noticed point on the back part of the head.

Cephalic index in animal breeding

The cephalic index is used to in the categorisation of animals, especially breeds of dogs and cats.

see Cephalic index in cats and dogs

Brachycephalic animals

File:Brabantczyk glowa profil 3241.jpg

Brachycephalic Pug

A brachycephalic skull is relatively broad and short (typically with the breadth at least 80% of the length). Dog breeds such as the Pug are sometimes classified as "Extreme Brachycephalic".

Brachycephalic dogs and cats are very sensitive to high temperatures, making the choice of a sleep or travel crate surface especially important.[How to reference and link to summary or text]

List of brachycephalic dogs:

  • Affenpinscher
  • American Bulldog
  • Boston Terrier
  • Boxer
  • Brussels Griffon
  • Bulldog
  • Bullmastiff
  • Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
  • English Mastiff
  • English Toy Spaniel
  • French Bulldog
  • Japanese Chin
  • Lhasa Apso
  • Pekingese
  • Pug
  • Shih Tzu
  • Valley Bulldog

List of brachycephalic cats:

  • British Shorthair
  • Himalayan cat
  • Persian cat
  • Exotic Shorthair

Mesocephalic animals

File:Labrador Retriever black portrait Ellis.jpg

Mesocephalic Labrador Retriever

A mesocephalic skull is of intermediate length and width. Mesocephalic skulls are not markedly brachycephalic or dolichocephalic.

  • American Pit Bull Terrier
  • Alaskan Malamute
  • Australian Cattle Dog
  • Beagle
  • Bearded Collie
  • Bichon Frisé
  • Border Collie
  • Brittany
  • Dalmatian
  • Doberman Pinscher
  • Dogue de Bordeaux
  • Golden Retriever
  • German Shepherd Dog
  • Irish Setter
  • Labrador Retriever
  • Neapolitan Mastiff
  • Norwich Terrier
  • Norfolk Terrier
  • Pembroke Welsh Corgi
  • Pomeranian
  • Rottweiler
  • Shar-Pei
  • St. Bernard

Dolichocephalic animals

File:Kufa charta - borzoja.jpg

Dolichocephalic Borzoi

A dolichocephalic skull is relatively long skull (typically with the breadth less than 80% or 75% of the length).

List of dolicocephalic canines:

  • Afghan Hound
  • Azawakh
  • Borzoi
  • Chart Polski
  • Collie
  • Dachshund
  • Galgo Español
  • Greyhound
  • Hortaya Borzaya
  • Italian Greyhound
  • Pharaoh Hound
  • Saluki
  • Scottish Deerhound
  • Sloughi
  • Whippet
  • Great Dane
  • Siberian Husky
  • Grey wolf

See also

External links


  1. K. Killgrove. "Bioarchaeology in the Roman World" (PDF). M.A. Thesis, UNC Chapel Hill.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Ralph L. Holloway, Head to head with Boas: Did he err on the plasticity of head form?
  3. Corey S. Sparks and Richard L. Jantz (November 2002). A reassessment of human cranial plasticity: Boas revisited. PNAS 99 (23): 14636–14639.. See also the discussion in Ralph L. Holloway (November 2002). Head to head with Boas: Did he err on the plasticity of head form?. PNAS 99 (23): 14622–14623.
  4. [1]
  5. [2]
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