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Keywords:

  • triceps brachii muscle;
  • bony lever;
  • load arm;
  • body size;
  • Australopithecus

Abstract

This study examines the functional morphology of the olecranon process in hominoids and fossil hominins. The length of the bony lever of the triceps brachii muscle (TBM) is measured as the distance between the trochlear articular center and the most distant insertion site of the TBM, and olecranon orientation is measured as the angle that this bony lever makes with the long axis of the ulna. Results show that Homo, Pan, Gorilla, most monkeys, and the Australopithecus fossils studied have similar relative olecranon lengths. Suspensory hominoids and Ateles have shorter olecranons, suggesting, in some instances, selection for greater speed in extension. The orientation that the lever arm of the TBM makes with the long axis of the ulna varies with preferred locomotor mode. Terrestrial primates have olecranons that are more posteriorly oriented as body size increases, fitting general models of terrestrial mammalian posture. Arboreal quadrupeds have more proximally oriented lever arms than any terrestrial quadrupeds, which suggests use of the TBM with the elbow in a more flexed position. Olecranon orientation is not consistent in suspensory hominoids, although they are all characterized by orientations that are either similar or more posterior than those observed in quadrupeds. Homo and the fossils have olecranons that are clearly more proximally oriented than expected for a quadruped of their size. This suggests that Homo and Australopithecus used their TBM in a flexed position, a position most consistent with manipulatory activities. Am J Phys Anthropol, 2003. © 2003 Wiley-Liss, Inc.