A measurement technique called facial angle has a history of being used to rank the position of animals and humans on the evolutionary hierarchy. The technique was exploited for several decades in order to prove evolution and justify racism. Extensive research on the correlation of brain shapes with mental traits and also the falsification of the whole field of phrenology, an area to which the facial angle theory was strongly linked, caused the theory’s demise.

The use of the facial angle, a method of measuring the forehead-to-jaw relationship, has a long history and was often used to make judgments of inferiority and superiority of certain human races. University of Chicago zoology professor Ransom Dexter wrote that the “subject of the facial angle has occupied the attention of philosophers from earliest antiquity.”1   Aristotle used it to help determine a person’s intelligence and to rank humans from inferior to superior.2 It was first used in modern times to compare human races by Petrus Camper (1722–1789), and it became widely popular until disproved in the early 20th century.2

The theory proposes that animal evolutionary history involves a progression from a nearly horizontal facial angle to a vertical one, a transition that was also used to support the evolution of ape-like creatures to humans. Facial angle was also commonly used in classifying other animals from primitive to highly evolved life-forms.3 Proponents of the facial angle theory hypothesized that facial angle was not only a trend from fish to humans, but could also be used to rank human groups from inferior to superior.4 It was a “primary instrument of scientific racism”.5

Facial angle “scientific” evidence was widely used by racists such as Arthur de Gobineau to justify racism on what they thought were scientific grounds.6 Influenced by the now discredited pseudoscience of phrenology, the “science” of determining mental traits by evaluating various skull traits such as bumps and valleys, Lawrence wrote that the ancients believed

“ … that an elevated facial line, produced by a great development of the instrument of knowledge and reflection, and a corresponding contraction of the mouth, jaws, tongue, nose, indicated a noble and generous nature. Hence they have extended the facial angle to 90° in the representation of legislators, sages, poets, and others, on whom they wished to bestow the most august character. In the statues of their heroes and gods they have still further exaggerated the human, and reduced the animal characteristics; extending the forehead over the face, so as to push the facial line beyond the perpendicular, and to make the angle 100°.”7….

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