Anthropology

Poor predictors

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Science  15 Jul 2016:
Vol. 353, Issue 6296, pp. 259-260
DOI: 10.1126/science.353.6296.259-f

Muscle attachment sites on fossils or bones may not accurately indicate hand activities such as tool use.

PHOTO: CARLOS ANDRE SANTOS/SHUTTERSTOCK

Although it poses a challenge, we have a great interest in understanding the behavior of extinct species. One approach that is commonly used to infer past behavior, especially of hominids, is the reconstruction of muscle anatomy from regions of muscle-to-bone attachment, or entheses, that remain on fossils or bones. Williams-Hatala et al. looked at hands from human cadavers to determine how accurate entheses are for predicting muscle morphology and therefore function. Looking across the measures most often used to infer hand function and tool use in hominids, they found very little correlation between the characteristics of entheses and attached muscle morphology. Because we know little about how entheses are shaped by stress and strain, they argue, caution should be used when extrapolating complex behaviors from these remnants.

Sci. Rep. 10.1038/srep28353 (2016)

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