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J Hum Evol. 2006 Aug;51(2):113-27. Epub 2006 Mar 24.

Contours of the hominoid lateral tibial condyle with implications for Australopithecus.

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  • 1Center for Functional Anatomy and Evolution, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, 1830 East Monument Street, Room 303, Baltimore, MD 21205, USA.


Tibial condyle shape is alleged to vary among fossil tibiae attributed to Australopithecus, and has been argued to reflect functional differences of the knee. Convex anteroposterior curvature of the lateral tibial condyle in A. africanus has been interpreted to indicate a more chimpanzee-like locomotor repertoire than the flatter lateral tibial condyles of A. afarensis (Berger and Tobias, 1996, J. Hum. Evol. 30, 343). Alternatively, Latimer, Ohman, and Lovejoy (1987, Am. J. Phys. Anthropol. 74, 155) have suggested that in response to increased transarticular loads accompanied by larger body mass, joints should become flatter as size increases, both within and among species, so that the variation observed among hominin fossils reflects size alone rather than functional differences. In this study, three-dimensional surface areas of the lateral tibial condyle of humans, chimpanzees, and gorillas were computed using a Digibot II (Digibotics) laser scanner and the DataSculpt v.4.6 engineering software package to evaluate joint surface contours, and compared to two-dimensional surface area and arc and chord length measurements of the anteroposterior and mediolateral axes. Extant species measurements were then compared to those of A. afarensis (A.L. 129-1b, A.L. 288-1aq, A.L. 333x-26, A.L. 333-42) and A. africanus (Stw 514a). Results do not support the hypothesis that A. afarensis and A. africanus differ in condylar topology. They also do not support the hypothesis that joint surfaces become flatter with increased transarticular load accompanying increased body size, as curvature of the lateral tibial condyle in anteroposterior and mediolateral planes is not negatively allometric. However, femoral condylar shape is not included in this study, which may better reflect joint surface responses to increased body size. Finally, there is no basis from this study to reconstruct differences in locomotor behavior among fossil hominin taxa based on lateral tibial condyle morphology.

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