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Keywords:

  • locomotion;
  • dorsal canting;
  • serial homology

Abstract

The proximal articular surface angle of orientation (AO) of proximal phalanges of the hand and foot has been used to infer the locomotor profile of extinct Miocene catarrhines and early hominins. Previous work has found that joint orientation distinguishes quadrupedal from suspensory anthropoids. The purpose of this study is to expand on previous research by examining this feature within and across several primate clades, allowing us to investigate the potential influences of locomotion, substrate usage, hand posture, and phylogeny. We also report AO measurements in human proximal hand phalanges, allowing us to examine human skeletal variation within a wide comparative context. The angle of orientation was measured on manual proximal third phalanges of 21 extant anthropoid species using a Microscribe digitizer. Comparisons were made between locomotor groups within hominoids, platyrrhines, and cercopithecoids. Proximal phalanges of quadrupedal species were characterized by greater dorsal orientation than those of suspensory taxa in hominoids and atelids. In addition, arboreal quadrupeds had greater AO values than terrestrial quadrupeds within the Cercopithecoidea. However, within the terrestrial locomotor group, mean AO values did not differ between palmigrade and digitigrade taxa. Thus, while there appears to be a functional signal related to substrate usage, differences in use of hand postures when moving on the ground were not reflected in proximal joint orientation of the proximal phalanx. Finally, we measured relatively low AO values in human phalanges, which might be related to integration with serially homologous pedal phalanges that are under strong selective pressure related to bipedalism. Anat Rec, 2012. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.