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J Exp Biol. 1999 Oct;202(Pt 20):2807-18.

Modelling the locomotor energetics of extinct hominids.

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1
University of Washington, Departments of Anthropology and Orthopaedics, Seattle, WA 98104-2499, USA. pakramer@u.washington.edu

Abstract

Bipedality is the defining characteristic of Hominidae and, as such, an understanding of the adaptive significance and functional implications of bipedality is imperative to any study of human evolution. Hominid bipedality is, presumably, a solution to some problem for the early hominids, one that has much to do with energy expenditure. Until recently, however, little attention could be focused on the quantifiable energetic aspects of bipedality as a unique locomotor form within Primates because of the inability to measure empirically the energy expenditure of non-modern hominids. A recently published method provides a way of circumventing the empirical measurement dilemma by calculating energy expenditure directly from anatomical variables and movement profiles. Although the origins of bipedality remain clouded, two discernible forms of locomotor anatomy are present in the hominid fossil record: the australopithecine and modern configurations. The australopithecine form is best represented by AL 288-1, a partial skeleton of Australopithecus afarensis, and is characterized as having short legs and a wide pelvis. The modern form is represented by modern humans and has long legs and a narrow pelvis. Human walking is optimized to take advantage of the changing levels of potential and kinetic energy that occur as the body and limbs move through the stride cycle. Although this optimization minimizes energy expenditure, some energy is required to maintain motion. I quantify this energy by developing a dynamic model that uses kinematic equations to determine energy expenditure. By representing both configurations with such a model, I can compare their rates of energy expenditure. I find that the australopithecine configuration uses less energy than that of a modern human. Despite arguments presented in the anthropological literature, the shortness of the legs of AL 288-1 provides no evidence that she was burdened with a compromised or transitional locomotor anatomy. Instead, she may well have been an effective biped at walking speeds, not despite her short legs, but rather because of them.

PMID:
10504316
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
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