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J Hum Evol. 2008 Jul;55(1):86-102. doi: 10.1016/j.jhevol.2008.01.005. Epub 2008 May 12.

Articular morphology of the proximal ulna in extant and fossil hominoids and hominins.

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  • 1Département d'anthropologie, Université de Montréal, C.P. 6128, Succursale Centre-ville, Montréal, QC, Canada H3C 3J7.


Extant hominoids share similar elbow joint morphology, which is believed to be an adaptation for elbow stability through a wide range of pronation-supination and flexion-extension postures. Mild variations in elbow joint morphology reported among extant hominoids are often qualitative, where orangutans are described as having keeled joints, and humans and gorillas as having flatter joints. Although these differences in keeling are often linked to variation in upper limb use or loading, they have not been specifically quantified. Many of the muscles important in arboreal locomotion in hominoids (i.e., wrist and finger flexors and extensors) take their origins from the humeral epicondyles. Contractions of these muscles generate transverse forces across the elbow, which are resisted mainly by the keel of the humeroulnar joint. Therefore, species with well-developed forearm musculature, like arboreal hominoids, should have more elbow joint keeling than nonarboreal species. This paper explores the three- and two-dimensional morphology of the trochlear notch of the elbow of extant hominoids and fossil hominins and hominoids for which the locomotor habitus is still debated. As expected, the elbow articulation of habitually arboreal extant apes is more keeled than that of humans. In addition, extant knuckle-walkers are characterized by joints that are distally expanded in order to provide greater articular surface area perpendicular to the large loads incurred during terrestrial locomotion with an extended forearm. Oreopithecus is characterized by a pronounced keel of the trochlear notch and resembles Pongo and Pan. OH 36 has a morphology that is unlike that of extant species or other fossil hominins. All other hominin fossils included in this study have trochlear notches intermediate in form between Homo and Gorilla or Pan, suggesting a muscularity that is less than in African apes but greater than in humans.

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