The tiny magnetite compass in the human nose

Stephen Juan, an anthropologist from the University of Sydney answers Lee Staniforth of Manchester, UK question, “Do humans have a compass in their nose?” He writes about some scientists at California Institute of Technology discovered that humans possess a tiny, shiny crystal of magnetite in the ethmoid bone (pink bone to the image on your right), located between your eyes, just behind the nose… but doesn’t give us any clue as to where the research was published. Ethmoid Bone

In other species of animals, magnetite, a magnetic mineral, is present in homing pigeons, migratory salmon, dolphins, honeybees, and bats. Even some bacteria even contain strands of magnetite that function, according to Charles Walcott of the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology in Ithaca, New York,

“as tiny compass needles, allowing them [the bacteria] to orient themselves in the earth’s magnetic field and swim down to their happy home in the mud.”

Magnetite helps orientation and direction finding in animals. It no doubtingly helps migratory species migrate successfully by allowing them to draw upon the earth’s magnetic fields. In the case, when it comes to humans, magnetite makes the ethmoid bone sensitive to the earth’s magnetic field and helps one’s sense of direction. Some have even suggested that this “compass” was helpful in human evolution as it made migration and hunting easier.

Again, I don’t have much evidence to support this, other than Juan’s comments but I wonder then does the presence of magentite support the out of africa theory more than multiregional? I would assume the magentite would have to innervate with the bone and wonder if it is closer to the Crista galli (top out cropping on the pink bone on your right)? Also, I wonder if anyone will do or has done a comparative study to see if other primates have it. I hypothesize they don’t because no primate migrates as much as humans. It would be interesting to see if the presence of magentite was an example of independent convergent evolution.

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