Cortical Bone Distribution in the Femoral Neck of Hominoids: Implications for the Locomotion of Australopithecus afarensis

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American Journal of Physical Anthropology

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hominid locomotion, functional morphology, computed tomography




Contiguous high resolution computed tomography images were obtained at a 1.5 mm slice thickness perpendicular to the neck axis from the base of the femoral head to the trochanteric line in a sample of 10 specimens each of Homo sapiens, Pan troglodytes, and Gorilla gorilla, plus five specimens of Pan paniscus. Superior, inferior, anterior, and posterior cortical thicknesses were automatically measured directly from these digital images. Throughout the femoral neck H. sapiens displays thin superior cortical bone and inferior cortical bone that thickens distally. In marked contrast, cortical bone in the femoral neck of African apes is more uniformly thick in all directions, with even greater thickening of the superior cortical bone distally. Because the femoral neck acts as a cantilevered beam, its anchorage at the neck-shaft junction is subjected to the highest bending stresses and is the most biomechanically relevant region to inspect for response to strain. As evinced by A.L. 128-1, A.L. 211-1 and MAK-VP-1/1, Australopithecus afarensis is indistinguishable from H. sapiens, but markedly different from African apes in cortical bone distribution at the femoral neck-shaft junction. Cortical distribution in the African ape indicates much greater variation in loading conditions consistent with their more varied locomotor repertoire. Cortical distribution in hominids is a response to the more stereotypic loading pattern imposed by habitual bipedality, and thin superior cortex in A. afarensis confirms the absence of a significant arboreal component in its locomotor repertoire. Am J Phys Anthropol 104:117–131, 1997. © 1997 Wiley-Liss, Inc.