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J Hum Evol. 2005 Apr;48(4):415-32.

The hominoid proximal radius: re-interpreting locomotor behaviors in early hominins.

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  • 1Interdepartmental Doctoral Program in Anthropological Sciences, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, NY 11794-4364, USA.


Studies of fossil hominins are traditionally taxonomically narrow and often exclude comparisons with hylobatids. Hence, results of functional analyses of postcrania, interpreted as indicating that early hominins are "African-ape-like" in their postcranial skeletons and positional behaviors, may reflect an artifact of inadequate taxonomic and morphological breadth of the comparative sample. To address this problem and better understand early hominin positional behaviors, this study included hylobatids in a comparative analysis, focusing on the hominoid elbow joint. Specifically, morphometric variables of the proximal radius were derived from measurements from a sample of all genera of extant hominoids and casts of extinct hominin species. Univariate and multivariate analyses were performed on these data. Results show that early hominins are morphologically diverse and are not, as a group, similar to any one extant group. Instead, the fossils resemble Pan, Gorilla, and Hylobates, and are not like modern Homo sapiens or Pongo. This suggests that the morphology of Hylobates may reflect a morphotype for all later hominoids, thus complicating the functional interpretations of fossil hominins. The implications of these results are that the proximal radius is not a sensitive indicator of locomotor behavior among hominoids since the morphology in hylobatids and Gorilla and Pan is similar despite widely varying positional repertoires. Furthermore, inferences of function from form in extinct hominins can be drastically affected by the comparative outgroup selection. A re-evaluation of the functional morphology of the proximal radius in early hominins is addressed.

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