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Functional morphology of the ankle and the likelihood of climbing in early hominins

By Jeremy M. DeSilva


Whether early hominins were adept tree climbers is unclear. Although some researchers have argued that bipedality maladapts the hominin skeleton for climbing, others have argued that early hominin fossils display an amalgamation of features consistent with both locomotor strategies. Although chimpanzees have featured prominently in these arguments, there are no published data on the kinematics of climbing in wild chimpanzees. Without these biomechanical data describing how chimpanzees actually climb trees, identifying correlates of climbing in modern ape skeletons is difficult, thereby limiting accurate interpretations of the hominin fossil record. Here, the first kinematic data on vertical climbing in wild chimpanzees are presented. These data are used to identify skeletal correlates of climbing in the ankle joint of the African apes to more accurately interpret hominin distal tibiae and tali. This study finds that chimpanzees engage in an extraordinary range of foot dorsiflexion and inversion during vertical climbing bouts. Two skeletal correlates of modern ape-like vertical climbing are identified in the ankle joint and related to positions of dorsiflexion and foot inversion. A study of the 14 distal tibiae and 15 tali identified and published as hominins from 4.12 to 1.53 million years ago finds that the ankles of early hominins were poorly adapted for modern ape-like vertical climbing bouts. This study concludes that if hominins included tree climbing as part of their locomotor repertoire, then they were performing this activity in a manner decidedly unlike modern chimpanzees

Topics: Biological Sciences
Publisher: National Academy of Sciences
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Provided by: PubMed Central
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