The shape of the early hominin proximal femur

Elizabeth H Harmon
American Journal of Physical Anthropology 2009, 139 (2): 154-71
Postcranial skeletal variation among Plio-Pleistocene hominins has implications for taxonomy and locomotor adaptation. Although sample size constraints make interspecific comparisons difficult, postcranial differences between Australopithecus afarensis and Australopithecus africanus have been reported (McHenry and Berger: J Hum Evol 35 1998 1-22; Richmond et al.: J Hum Evol 43 [2002] 529-548; Green et al.: J Hum Evol 52 2007 187-200). Additional evidence indicates that the early members of the genus Homo show morphology like recent humans (e.g., Walker and Leakey: The Nariokotome Homo erectus skeleton. Cambridge: Harvard, 1993). Using a larger fossil sample than previous studies and novel methods, the early hominin proximal femur is newly examined to determine whether new data alter the current view of femoral evolution and inform the issue of interspecific morphological variation among australopiths. Two- and three-dimensional data are collected from large samples of recent humans, Pan, Gorilla, and Pongo and original fossil femora of Australopithecus, Paranthropus, and femora of African fossil Homo. The size-adjusted shape data are analyzed using principal components, thin plate spline analysis, and canonical variate analysis to assess shape variation. The results indicate that femora of fossil Homo are most similar to modern humans but share a low neck-shaft angle (NSA) with australopiths. Australopiths as a group have ape-like greater trochanter morphology. A. afarensis differs from P. robustus and A. africanus in attributes of the neck and NSA. However, interspecific femoral variation is low and australopiths are generally morphologically similar. Although the differences are not dramatic, when considered in combination with other postcranial evidence, the adaptive differences among australopiths in craniodental morphology may have parallels in the postcranium.

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