Origins of human bipedality and the bent-knee/bent-hip hypothesis

Theme: Past Life and Environments

Main Supervisor  Matt
Matthew Skinner
Anthropology, UCL
Second Supervisor  ChrisStringer
Chris Stringer
Earth Sciences, UCL
Project Description:

This project addresses a fundamental question of human evolution: When and how did we become bipedal? Resolving this question requires us to reconstruct the locomotion of fossil human ancestors (hominins), and whether they used human-like, straight-leg, striding bipedalism or walked with a more chimpanzee-like bent-hip and bent-knee.

This project uses high-resolution microtomography to image the internal bony structure of the knee joint and hip joint in extant apes, humans, and fossil hominins. It employs cutting-edge software to quantify the density and distribution of trabecular bone in the tibia, femur and pelvis. With these data we can reconstruct joint position of the knee and hip and thus posture during locomotion.

A characterization of bone structure and joint positioning in apes and humans, which employ variable locomotory patterns, will be used to interpret the type of bipedalism used by fossil hominins in East and South Africa and when human-like bipedalism first evolved.

Research relating to this project:
Tsegai ZJ, Kivell TL, Gross T, Nguyen NH, Pahr DH, Skinner, MM. (2013) Trabecular Bone Structure Correlates with Hand Posture and Use in Hominoids. PLoS ONE 8(11): e78781. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0078781
Barak MM, Lieberman DE, Raichlen D, Pontzer H, Warrener AG, Hublin, J-J. (2013) Trabecular Evidence for a Human-Like Gait in Australopithecus africanus. PLoS ONE 8(11): e77687. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0077687
Ward, C. (2002) Interpreting the posture and locomotion of
Australopithecus afarensis: where do we stand? Yearbook of Physical Anthropology 45:185–215.
Policy Impact of Research:
This project will resolve one of the key debates of palaeoanthropology; the origins of human bipedality and the evolution of locomotion in our ancestors. The novel techniques used in this study can be applied to other bones of the skeleton to address key behavioral transitions in human evolution.

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