Last updated April 24, 2017 at 3:28 pm
Some thoughts about your nose:
- Your eyes can always see it, but your brain edits it out of your vision
- The skin surrounding your nostrils and tip of your nose is called the rhinarium
- The climate decided what shape it is.
The bottom one has been debated for over 100 years, and now more evidence has suggested that it may well be the case. One job of the nose is to warm and condition the air inhaled before it reaches our lungs, so it might make sense that different climates produce different nose shapes to produce the optimal air entering the lungs.
It has taken until now to study actual noses (previous work has studied just skulls), but by studying over 450 people from different ethnicities researchers found that only 2 of 7 nose-related characteristics seemed to be influenced by evolution and were specific to different populations.
They then studied 140 women who were of west African, northern European, east Asian, or south Asian ancestry, and whose parents still lived in those regions. They used this information to assign a climate type to the nose of each woman, and the results showed that nostril width was linked to temperature and humidity. People with ancestors in warm and humid climates had on average wider nostrils than those who lived in cooler and drier climates.
Narrower nostrils are thought to condition the air as it passes through, warming it and increasing the moisture content making it better suited for our airways, which would be an advantage in higher latitudes with cold dry air. One nose type isn’t better than the other, but just an adaptation to the local conditions.
While it might be surprising that these differences still exist given the globalised nature of modern civilisation, these adaptations likely appeared over the course of tens of thousands of years, and are not likely to have been noticeably affected over the past 50 years of travel and migration.
However while the climate may well have affected the development of our noses, it is unlikely to be the whole story as other factors such as sexual attractiveness in cultures may also be at work. The study will also need to be repeated with more ethnicities and climate areas, as when the northern European group is removed from this study its results possibly start looking a little shaky. The study also concentrated solely on the external shape of the nose, when it is the internal structures that do the conditioning of air. These internal structures may reveal far more about our development and adaptation to climate than the external shape.
So while this may support the idea that the climate of our ancestors affects how we look, there’s still some more sniffing around to be done.