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Keywords:

  • hip joint;
  • femur;
  • CT;
  • biomechanics;
  • gait

All early (Pliocene–Early Pleistocene) hominins exhibit some differences in proximal femoral morphology from modern humans, including a long femoral neck and a low neck-shaft angle. In addition, australopiths (Au. afarensis, Au. africanus, Au. boisei, Paranthropus boisei), but not early Homo, have an “anteroposteriorly compressed” femoral neck and a small femoral head relative to femoral shaft breadth. Superoinferior asymmetry of cortical bone in the femoral neck has been claimed to be human-like in australopiths. In this study, we measured superior and inferior cortical thicknesses at the middle and base of the femoral neck using computed tomography in six Au. africanus and two P. robustus specimens. Cortical asymmetry in the fossils is closer overall to that of modern humans than to apes, although many values are intermediate between humans and apes, or even more ape-like in the midneck. Comparisons of external femoral neck and head dimensions were carried out for a more comprehensive sample of South and East African australopiths (n = 17) and two early Homo specimens. These show that compared with modern humans, femoral neck superoinferior, but not anteroposterior breadth, is larger relative to femoral head breadth in australopiths, but not in early Homo. Both internal and external characteristics of the australopith femoral neck indicate adaptation to relatively increased superoinferior bending loads, compared with both modern humans and early Homo. These observations, and a relatively small femoral head, are consistent with a slightly altered gait pattern in australopiths, involving more lateral deviation of the body center of mass over the stance limb. Am J Phys Anthropol, 2013. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.