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Keywords:

  • articular facet curvature and orientation;
  • Australopithecus afarensis;
  • Homo floresiensis;
  • Homo habilis;
  • Homo neanderthalensis;
  • Paranthropus boisei;
  • talus

Abstract

The hominoid foot is of particular interest to biological anthropologists, as changes in its anatomy through time reflect the adoption of terrestrial locomotion, particularly in species of Australopithecus and Homo. Understanding the osteological morphology associated with changes in whole foot function and the development of the plantar medial longitudinal foot arch are key to understanding the transition through habitual bipedalism in australopithecines to obligate bipedalism and long-distance running in Homo. The talus is ideal for studying relationships between morphology and function in this context, as it is a major contributor to the adduction–abduction, plantar–dorsal flexion and inversion–eversion of the foot, and transmits all forces encountered from the foot to the leg. The talar surface is predominantly covered by articular facets, which have different quantifiable morphological characters, including surface area, surface curvature and orientation. The talus also presents challenges to the investigator, as its globular shape is very difficult to quantify accurately and reproducibly. Here we apply a three-dimensional approach using type 3 landmarks (slid semilandmarks) that are geometrically homologous to determine overall talar shape variations in a range of living and fossil hominoid taxa. Additionally, we use novel approaches to quantify the relative orientations and curvatures of talar articular facets by determining the principal vectors of facet orientation and fitting spheres to articular facets. The resulting metrics are analysed using phylogenetic regressions and principal components analyses. Our results suggest that articular surface curvatures reflect locomotor specialisations with, in particular, orang-utans having more highly curved facets in all but the calcaneal facet. Similarly, our approach to quantifying articular facet orientation appears to be effective in discriminating between extant hominoid species, and may therefore provide a sound basis for the study of fossil taxa and evolution of bipedalism in Australopithecus and Homo.