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Australopithecus afarensis Scapular Ontogeny, Function, and the Role of Climbing in Human Evolution

Science  26 Oct 2012:
Vol. 338, Issue 6106, pp. 514-517
DOI: 10.1126/science.1227123

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Abstract

Scapular morphology is predictive of locomotor adaptations among primates, but this skeletal element is scarce in the hominin fossil record. Notably, both scapulae of the juvenile Australopithecus afarensis skeleton from Dikika, Ethiopia, have been recovered. These scapulae display several traits characteristic of suspensory apes, as do the few known fragmentary adult australopith representatives. Many of these traits change significantly throughout modern human ontogeny, but remain stable in apes. Thus, the similarity of juvenile and adult fossil morphologies implies that A. afarensis development was apelike. Additionally, changes in other scapular traits throughout African ape development are associated with shifts in locomotor behavior. This affirms the functional relevance of those characteristics, and their presence in australopith fossils supports the hypothesis that their locomotor repertoire included a substantial amount of climbing.

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