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Keywords:

  • posture;
  • spine;
  • Australopithecus;
  • Neandertal;
  • fossil H. sapiens

Abstract

The lordotic curvature of the lumbar spine (lumbar lordosis) in humans is a critical component in the ability to achieve upright posture and bipedal gait. Only general estimates of the lordotic angle (LA) of extinct hominins are currently available, most of which are based on the wedging of the vertebral bodies. Recently, a new method for calculating the LA in skeletal material has become available. This method is based on the relationship between the lordotic curvature and the orientation of the inferior articular processes relative to vertebral bodies in the lumbar spines of living primates. Using this relationship, we developed new regression models in order to calculate the LAs in hominins. The new models are based on primate group-means and were used to calculate the LAs in the spines of eight extinct hominins. The results were also compared with the LAs of modern humans and modern nonhuman apes. The lordotic angles of australopithecines (41° ± 4), H. erectus (45°) and fossil H. sapiens (54° ± 14) are similar to those of modern humans (51° ± 11). This analysis confirms the assumption that human-like lordotic curvature was a morphological change that took place during the acquisition of erect posture and bipedalism as the habitual form of locomotion. Neandertals have smaller lordotic angles (LA = 29° ± 4) than modern humans, but higher angles than nonhuman apes (22° ± 3). This suggests possible subtle differences in Neandertal posture and locomotion from that of modern humans. Am J Phys Anthropol, 2012. © 2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.