The 85th Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2016)


Homo naledi strides again: preliminary reconstructions of an extinct hominin’s gait

ZACH THROCKMORTON1,14, WILLIAM E.H. HARCOURT-SMITH14,2,3, KIMBERLY CONGDON14,4, BERNHARD ZIPFEL14, JEREMY DESILVA14,5, CAROLINE VANSICKLE14,6,7, SCOTT WILLIAMS14,9, MARC MEYER11,14, THOMAS CODY PRANG14,9, CHRISTOPHER WALKER10,14, DAMIANO MARCHI14,8, DANIEL GARCIA-MARTINEZ12,14, STEVEN CHURCHILL13,14, JOHN HAWKS14,6 and LEE BERGER14.

1Anatomy, Lincoln Memorial University-DCOM, 2Anthropology, Lehman College, 3Paleontology, American Museum of Natural History, 4Biology, Southern Utah University, 5Anthropology, Dartmouth College, 6Anthropology, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 7Gender & Women's Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 8Biology, University of Pisa, 9Anthropology, New York University, 10Anatomy, North Carolina State University, 11Anthropology, Chaffey College, 12Paleoanthropology Group, Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales, 13Evolutionary Anthropology, Duke University, 14Evolutionary Studies Institute, University of the Witwatersrand

April 16, 2016 10:45, Imperial Ballroom A Add to calendar

In this preliminary reconstruction of Homo naledi’s gait we begin with the null hypothesis that it walked similarly to modern humans, as the overall anatomy of this extinct hominin’s lower limb, especially its foot, is mostly modern human-like. We note the following characters as modern-like: dorsally-canting metatarsophalangeal joints facilitating toe-off, locking transverse tarsal joint implying a rigid midfoot during stance, flat subtalar joint limiting ankle pro- and supination, talocrural joint oriented orthogonally to the substrate, valgus knee, thick patellae increasing the moment arm for quadriceps femoris, and well-developed thigh muscle attachment sites throughout the femur. These characters suggest Homo naledi was well-adapted to a striding bipedal gait. However, we also note the following less modern-like characters: curved pedal phalanges, low sustentaculum tali and likely a low fundamental longitudinal arch, pronounced tubercular insertion of the pes anserinus tendon on the proximomedial tibia, long femoral neck with a marked medial encroachment of the obturator externus, posteriorly positioned ilium relative to the acetabulum, flared iliac blades, broad lower ribcage, and characters of the lower thoracic vertebrae and lower rib suggesting robust hypaxial muscles. We offer our initial functional interpretations of the cumulative postcranial morphology, which suggests different trunk stabilization from modern humans but is consistent with orthogrady and an obligate bipedal locomotor regime. Given the anatomy of the upper limb, Homo naledi demonstrates co-existence of both bipedalism and climbing adaptations in one hominin taxon.

This work is funded by National Geographic, the National Research Foundation of South Africa, the Palaeontological Scientific Trust, the Lyda Hill Foundation, the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, and the authors' universities.