The researchers found that bones that suffer the highest rates of fractures in fights are the same parts of the skull that exhibited the greatest increase in sturdiness during the evolution of our early human relatives. These bones are also the parts of the skull that show the greatest difference between males and females in both australopiths and humans today.

“In other words,” Carrier said, “male and female faces are different because the parts of the skull that break in fights are bigger in males. Importantly, these facial features appear in the fossil record at approximately the same time that our ancestors evolved hand proportions that allow the formation of a fist.”

He continued, “Together, these observations suggest that many of the facial features that characterize early hominins may have evolved to protect the face from injury during fighting with fists.”