What Your Nose Shape Says About the Evolution of Your Ancestors

Your particular nose shape is a gift from your ancestors — and it was given to you for a reason. filippo giuliani/Shutterstock

The nose is one of the most prominent features on our faces, but not everyone is happy with what they see in the mirror. Over 200,000 people opt for a nose job every year in the United States. That's unfortunate, because the shapes of our noses represent remarkable evolutionary adaptations that scientists are only beginning to fully comprehend.

A new anthropological study by a team of researchers from Ireland, Belgium and the U.S. used 3-D facial imaging technology to carefully measure the noses of nearly 500 participants who hail from around the globe. They found that certain nose shapes were strongly linked to climate, which suggests they have been sculpted by natural selection, reports the Huffington Post.

“The link between nose shape and climate has been suspected for a long time, and the correlation between nose shape and climate has been shown before, several times but using the shape of the human skull,” said the study’s lead author, Mark Shriver. “We have expanded on this body of evidence by studying the variation in the external nose and the underlying genetic variation, both of which have not been examined so far because of methodological challenges.”

Is your nose narrow or wide?

For the study, researchers looked at a wide variety of nose measurements including nose height, nostril width, distance between nostrils, protrusion, and total surface area of the nose and nostrils. The strongest correlations with climate were found regarding narrow and wide classifications; narrow noses were associated with cold and dry climates, while wide noses were common in hot and humid areas.

The findings seem to corroborate an old theory called "Thompson's rule," which was first proposed by anatomist Arthur Thompson back in the 1800s. The idea is that the nose helps to filter and condition inhaled air before it reaches the lower respiratory tract. Moist, warm air is ideal, so in regions where the air is dry and cold, it helps to have a narrower nose, to help warm the air and retain moisture.

Researchers observed correlations in these regards that were far greater in degree than what could be explained by random variation alone. That means that your nose was given to you by your ancestors for a very good reason. You might not have been born in the first place if it wasn't for the distinctive curves and shapes of your sniffer.

Of course, there are likely other evolutionary factors at play when it comes to nose shape too, such as sexual selection. But that's all the more reason to appreciate the face you've got. Your nose is supremely adapted and has contributed to your ancestors' sex appeal.

The study was published in the journal PLOS Genetics.