• resampling methods;
  • manual proportions;
  • Australopithecus afarensis;
  • Hadar formation;
  • manipulative ability


Previous analyses of hand morphology in Australopithecus afarensis have concluded that this taxon had modern human-like manual proportions, with relatively long thumbs and short fingers. These conclusions are based on the A.L.333 composite fossil assemblage from Hadar, Ethiopia, and are premised on the ability to assign phalanges to a single individual, and to the correct side and digit. Neither assignment is secure, however, given the taphonomy and sample composition at A.L.333. We use a resampling approach that includes the entire assemblage of complete hand elements at Hadar, and takes into account uncertainties in identifying phalanges by individual, side and digit number. This approach provides the most conservative estimates of manual proportions in Au. afarensis. We resampled hand long bone lengths in Au. afarensis and extant hominoids, and obtained confidence limits for distributions of manual proportions in the latter. Results confirm that intrinsic manual proportions in Au. afarensis are dissimilar to Pan and Pongo. However, manual proportions in Au. afarensis often fall at the upper end of the distribution in Gorilla, and very lower end in Homo, corresponding to disproportionately short thumbs and long medial digits in Homo. This suggests that manual proportions in Au. afarensis, particularly metacarpal proportions, were not as derived towards Homo as previously described, but rather are intermediate between gorillas and humans. Functionally, these results suggest Au. afarensis could not produce precision grips with the same efficiency as modern humans, which may in part account for the absence of lithic technology in this fossil taxon. Am J Phys Anthropol 152:393–406, 2013. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.