Interesting, if slightly controversial argument that male faces (and other features) were selected through the course of evolution to be more resistant to impacts from violent altercations. Fascinating idea, but I would still cry like a baby if you clocked me right in the face.
Excerpt from “Male faces ‘buttressed against punches’ by evolution” By Jonathan Webb
Fossil records show that the australopiths, immediate predecessors of the human genus Homo, had strikingly robust facial structures.
For many years, this extra strength was seen as an adaptation to a tough diet including nuts, seeds and grasses. But more recent findings, examining the wear pattern and carbon isotopes in australopith teeth, have cast some doubt on this “feeding hypothesis”.
Instead of diet, Prof Carrier and his co-author, physician Dr Michael Morgan, propose that violent competition demanded the development of these facial fortifications: what they call the “protective buttressing hypothesis”.
“Jaws are one of the most frequent bones to break – and it’s not the end of the world now, because we have surgeons, we have modern medicine,” Prof Carrier explained. “But four million years ago, if you broke your jaw, it was probably a fatal injury. You wouldn’t be able to chew food… You’d just starve to death.”
The jaw, cheek, eye and nose structures that most commonly come to grief in modern fist fights were also the most protected by evolutionary changes seen in the australopiths.
Furthermore, these are the bones that show the most differences between men and women, as well as between our male and female forebears. That is how you would expect defensive armour to evolve, Prof Carrier points out.
“In humans and in great apes in general… it’s males that are most likely to get into fights, and it’s also males that are most likely to get injured,” he told BBC News.
David R. Carrier and Michael H. Morgan
When humans fight hand-to-hand the face is usually the primary target and the bones that suffer the highest rates of fracture are the parts of the skull that exhibit the greatest increase in robusticity during the evolution of basal hominins. These bones are also the most sexually dimorphic parts of the skull in both australopiths and humans. In this review, we suggest that many of the facial features that characterize early hominins evolved to protect the face from injury during fighting with fists. Specifically, the trend towards a more orthognathic face; the bunodont form and expansion of the postcanine teeth; the increased robusticity of the orbit; the increased robusticity of the masticatory system, including the mandibular corpus and condyle, zygoma, and anterior pillars of the maxilla; and the enlarged jaw adductor musculature are traits that may represent protective buttressing of the face. If the protective buttressing hypothesis is correct, the primary differences in the face of robust versus gracile australopiths may be more a function of differences in mating system than differences in diet as is generally assumed. In this scenario, the evolution of reduced facial robusticity in Homo is associated with the evolution of reduced strength of the upper body and, therefore, with reduced striking power. The protective buttressing hypothesis provides a functional explanation for the puzzling observation that although humans do not fight by biting our species exhibits pronounced sexual dimorphism in the strength and power of the jaw and neck musculature. The protective buttressing hypothesis is also consistent with observations that modern humans can accurately assess a male’s strength and fighting ability from facial shape and voice quality.