Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Life on Earth got bigger in 2-million-fold leaps, our feet had to start somewhere!

Extremes are exciting. Does anyone really think dinosaurs would capture our imagination the way they do if they hadn't been so huge? You don't see natural history museums vying for fossil skeletons of prehistoric rodents. It's the Tyrannosaurus rex fossils they salivate and squabble over. And would the Hollywood glitterati cart around those little teacup pups if they weren't so dang tiny and cute? Not likely.
Earth's creatures come in all sizes, yet they (and we) all sprang from the same single-celled organisms that first populated the planet. So how on Earth did life go from bacteria to the blue whale?
"It happened primarily in two great leaps, and each time, the maximum size of life jumped up by a factor of about a million," said Jonathan Payne, assistant professor of geological and environmental science at Stanford.
Payne, along with a dozen other paleontologists and ecologists at 10 different research institutions, pooled their existing databases, combed the scientific literature and consulted with taxonomic experts in a quest to determine the maximum size of life over all of geological time.
That might sound like a rather large undertaking, but, fortunately, the quest was made easier because even the professionals have a fascination with the size of the fossilized.
"The nice thing about maximum size is that people tend to remark on very large fossils, so they are much easier to track down in the geologic literature than anything else," Payne said.
In addition to quantifying the enormity of the two leaps in maximum size, the researchers also pinned down when those leaps took place. Both leaps coincided with periods when there was a major increase in the amount of oxygen in the atmosphere.
Payne said that many researchers already recognized, in a qualitative way, that the change in maximum size had occurred this way. "But our study really reflects the first time that anybody has tried to quantify exactly how stepwise it was and how big those size jumps were," he said.
A paper detailing the research by Payne and his colleagues is scheduled to be published in the Dec. 22, 2008, online early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and is available online through EurekAlert.
The two other principal investigators of the research group, funded through the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, are Michal Kowalewski of Virginia Tech and Jennifer Stempien of the University of Colorado-Boulder.
So how did it all happen? The first fossilized bacterial cells date to approximately 3.4 billion years ago, although life likely originated several hundred million years before. Between 2.7 and 2.4 billion years ago, cyanobacteria, formerly known as blue-green algae, originated and were of particular evolutionary and geological importance because they excrete oxygen as a waste product during photosynthesis. So far as science can tell, they were the first and only organisms to evolve oxygen-producing photosynthesis.
"All of the oxygen in the atmosphere ultimately exists because of the evolution of cyanobacteria," Payne said. "Plants that produce oxygen today during photosynthesis, their ability to do that is ultimately derived from cyanobacteria."
Single-celled bacteria remained the largest life form on Earth, cranking out the oxygen, until about 1.6 billion years ago. At that point, a new life form shows up in the fossil record.
"The first jump in maximum size happens when the first eukaryotic organisms show up as fossils," Payne said. "And those fossils are approximately a million times bigger than anything that had come before on Earth."
Although the first fossil eukaryotes were likely also single-celled organisms, the eukaryotes distinguish themselves by means of their internal structure and functioning. Instead of having the cellular processes of life take place by means of diffusion in the cell, eukaryotes have organized innards, with a nucleus and other cellular structures that are dedicated to specific functions in the respiratory process.
"The fossil record indicates pretty clearly that you need a eukaryotic cell to make that first size jump," Payne said. "It isn't just that the bacteria don't get there as fast, it is that bacteria still haven't gotten there 1.6 billion years later.
"Clearly, organismal organization matters," Payne said. "Not just at the time the size increase happens, but it continues to be a limitation on size.
For approximately the next billion years, life on Earth stayed about the same size, with only modest increases. Then about 600 million years ago, at the same time as another major boost in the amount of oxygen in the atmosphere, life leaped in size again.
This time, it was a million-fold size leap of multi-cellularity. Payne said there are clearly multi-cellular eukaryotes in the fossil record for several million years before this size leap, but the real explosion of size increase didn't happen until the oxygen level bumped up.
So why do the size leaps seem to hinge on the amount of oxygen in the air?
"There are a few things that could be going on," Payne said. "The first thing is that eukaryotic cells require oxygen for metabolism. So if they want to take organic matter and burn it up to have energy in their cell, they need oxygen. That sets the first and probably most important limitation."
Payne said this limitation also applies to multi-cellular eukaryotes, which likewise depend on extracting oxygen from the surrounding environment and using that in their cells to obtain energy. "There is also evidence that oxygen may mediate some other biochemical processes," he said.
As for just what triggered both the boosts in atmospheric oxygen, Payne said that isn't quite as clear. It may be that the first jump in oxygen came because cyanobacteria simply proliferated to the point that they were cranking out more oxygen than could be consumed through chemical reactions with material at Earth's surface, the only way that oxygen wouldn't have been released back into the atmosphere in the era before oxygen breathing creatures existed.
The possible causes of the second jump in oxygen are less clear, Payne said, but regardless of the puzzles that remain to be sorted out, the timing and magnitude of the jumps up in maximum size are clear. And Payne said the size jumps applied to a vast number of species.
"Whatever is controlling this second size increase appears to operate across many different groups. It is not something limiting one group alone," he said. "There also appears to be an increase even in the maximum size of groups of organisms like multi-cellular algae, so the size increase doesn't appear to be limited just to animals."
One other question remains to be answered: Can we look forward to another great leap in size? Will we see housecats larger than our houses?
"We've speculated on that a little bit, just sort of thinking about what if you went up another step," Payne said.
"The next level of organization, going along this kind of theme, presumably would be something like insect societies, where you have individual multicellular eukaryotes that specialize in terms of what kind of function they carry out in a larger organization of these individuals. Something like an ant colony or a human society would be in some ways the next organizational level.
"But, if you look at human society as an example, we use so much of the gross primary productivity on Earth, it doesn't appear there would be room for a lot of species at that next level of organization and maximum size. At that point you're actually getting towards the physical size limits just imposed by the size of our planet."

Source:Eurekalert 23/12/08.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Gibbon feet provide model for early human walking.

Scientists at the University of Liverpool have found that early humans could have walked successfully on a ‘flexible’ flat foot, similar to modern day gibbons.The arched ‘rigid’ foot of modern humans – thought to have appeared approximately 1.8 million years ago – is best adapted for upright walking, but scientists have found that early humans once had ‘flexible’ feet and could have walked on the ground some years earlier. Scientists originally thought that a flexible foot could have been ‘restrictive’ for humans learning to walk upright as it lacked the necessary power to push off the ground. To understand the mechanisms of the flexible foot, scientists studied the movements of gibbons – small apes living in the rainforest of South East Asia – which walk upright both on the ground and in the trees.Dr Evie Vereecke, from the University’s School of Biomedical Sciences, explains: “Gibbons have a flexible joint mid-way along the foot that supports them in walking and climbing. Human ancestors also had this joint for tree dwelling and ground walking, but modern humans have now lost its flexibility in favour of a ‘rigid’ foot. “To understand how successful or ‘restrictive’ the flexible foot might have been for early humans we set up a high-speed camera at Belgium’s Wild Animal Park to capture the gibbon’s foot movements. We built a computer model to digitise the footage we collected so that we could analyse the mechanisms employed in the foot and compare it to how humans walk today. “We found that gibbons hit the ground with their toes first, similar to the ‘forefoot’ strike of professional sprint runners, which stretches the tendons in the toes. We also found that instead of lifting the foot at the end of a stride, the gibbon raised its heel first, making an upward arch and stretching the tendons in the sole of the foot.“These stretched tendons allow storage of elastic energy and once the toe leaves the ground the tendons in the foot recoil, releasing the stored energy and generating the necessary propulsion to push off the ground and walk upright quite successfully. “The structure of the modern human foot is different to the gibbon, but the energy storage mechanism is similar. The human foot is spanned by an elastic band along its sole which is stretched when we put our weight on it and stores elastic energy ready for release when the foot leaves the ground.”The work - published in the Journal of Experimental Biology - shows that it is possible that human ancestors could have walked successfully with an upright-gait on a ‘flexible’ flat foot and may have similar energy storage mechanisms to modern humans.

Source:The University of Liverpool 17/12/08.

Sunday, 30 November 2008

The enigma of Lake Ontario's 11,000-year-old footprints.

In the fall of 1908, while building a waterworks tunnel east of Hanlan's Point in Toronto Bay, a work crew came across 100 footprints in a layer of blue clay. The prints appeared to have been left by people wearing moccasins – 11,000 years ago.
It was an astounding discovery, perhaps the first evidence of human habitation on Lake Ontario, but few recognized its significance.
"It looked like a trail ...," city inspector W. H. Cross told the Toronto Evening Telegram about what he saw that November day. "You could follow one man the whole way. Some footprints were on top of the others, partly obliterating them. There were footprints of all sizes, and a single print of a child's foot, three and a half inches..."
He went on to describe the way the clay had shot up under the imprints of the heels, how the prints appeared to be heading north, and how he had tried to lift a piece of the clay to preserve the prints, but it broke away in his hand.
The group – likely a family, judging by the different sized prints – could have been walking from a hunting camp on the shore of Lake Ontario to what is now downtown Toronto. Back then, the shoreline would have been more than a kilometre further south.
The story is told in a new book, Toronto: A Short Illustrated History of its First 12,000 Years, which, unlike most others that look at Toronto's past, begins at the very beginning, before recorded history. Tragically, the prints were not preserved. The tunnel workers were in a hurry to complete the job, and simply poured concrete over the clay.
"If they were found to be authentic, it would have been the only discovery of footprints of the first people of Ontario," says archaeologist Ron Williamson, who edited the book and wrote the chapter on pre-European contact. "It would have been amazing."
Though it seems shocking that a find of such potential importance was unceremoniously buried, a similar attitude toward the archaeological history of First Nations people prevails, he says.
"The fact that it was almost immediately destroyed ... I can't tell you how many times, even today, construction crews make the same argument when something significant is found: They have no time for this, they have to get going."
Without seeing the prints, it's difficult to evaluate their authenticity, Williamson says, though there's no reason to believe that Cross and company were exercising a hoax.
Hunters pursuing caribou, mastodon or mammoth were known to inhabit the shoreline, then a landscape of spruce forest and tundra, similar to Canada's sub Arctic.
Mammoth remains have been found in Toronto, most notably during excavation for the former Eaton's College Street department store at College and Yonge Sts., and at Christie Pits.
Archaeologists have found 11,000-year-old spear points east of Buffalo with mastodon bone that appear to have been shaped into tools.
The Toronto Daily Star, in fierce competition with the Toronto Telegram, also reported on the footprints story, but dismissed it. At the turn of the 19th century, it was wrongly believed that the clay in which the footprints were found dated to more than 100,000 years.
One expert consulted by the Daily Star said that since the shale was there long before man arrived, the source of the prints was not early hunters but more likely "a lobster-like animal."
"Now that we know it was only 11,000 years ago," says Williamson, "it's much more sensible."
Along with exploring the footprint mystery, the book also contains essays by local historians: Robert MacDonald on Toronto's natural history, Carl Benn on colonial transformations, and Christopher Andreae on the city's industrial development.
Roger Hall's concluding essay brings Toronto into the 21st century, with observations on the nature of the modern city, unrecognizable to the travellers whose footprints were revealed under Lake Ontario.
After World War II, Toronto was no longer the "introverted capital" it had been in 1939. The arrival of manufacturing and newcomers from southern Europe and Asia led to a strengthening economy and new cultural vibrancy. Still, Toronto was not a world-class city.
"Flattering, at least to some, but not true," Hall writes.
It was not as ancient as Delhi or, like Beijing, trying to invent itself in the modern world.
Nor was it a global power broker, like New York.
"What it was," Hall writes, "was something more attractive to most of the world's inhabitants: safe, prosperous, predictable, substantial, decent. In short, it was a good place to live in a country that could boast the same qualities."

Source: TheStar.com 30/11/08 ; credit:Leslie Scrivener.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Pelvis reflects "intelligence" of H.erectus.

Pelvis dated to 1.2 million years ago shows our ancestors were born with bigger heads.

A recently discovered female pelvis is changing minds about the head size of an ancient human ancestor, Homo erectus, and consequently revising notions about how smart they may have been. Found in Gona, Ethiopia, not far from the site that yielded the 3.2 million year old remains of the famed Australopithecus afarensi "Lucy," the pelvis indicates that Homo erectus, which lived in Africa roughly 2 million years ago, had a larger birth canal than originally suspected and could have given birth to babies with bigger brains.
Before the female pelvis was found, evidence from the pelvis of a juvenile male led researchers to project that the cranial circumference and capacity of newborn Homo erectus babies was 30 percent smaller than more recent projections based on the newly discovered pelvis.
Sileshi Semaw, a paleoanthropologist at the Stone Age Institute and Indiana University-Bloomington, and his colleagues assert that the head of a baby born from this Homo erectus could have been 318 millimeters in circumference. This is at the lower end of the spectrum of modern day human beings whose cranial circumferences at birth typically range from 320-370 millimeters. Semaw and colleagues present their findings in the Nov. 14 issue of Science. The research is funded in part by the National Science Foundation.

Zina Deretsky, NSF

Source :Eurekalert 15/11/08

Friday, 14 November 2008

Prehistoric pelvis offers clues to human development

A reconstruction of the 1.2 million-year-old pelvis discovered in 2001 in the Gona Study Area at Afar, Ethiopia, that has led researchers to speculate early man was better equipped than first thought to produce larger-brained babies. The actual fossils remain in Ethiopia.

Credit: Scott W. Simpson, Case Western Reserve University

Discovery of the most intact female pelvis of Homo erectus may cause scientists to reevaluate how early humans evolved to successfully birth larger-brained babies. "This is the most complete female Homo erectus pelvis ever found from this time period," said Indiana University Bloomington paleoanthropologist Sileshi Semaw. "This discovery gives us more accurate information about the Homo erectus female pelvic inlet and therefore the size of their newborns."
A reconstruction of the 1.2 million-year-old pelvis discovered in 2001 in the Gona Study Area at Afar, Ethiopia, that has led researchers to speculate early man was better equipped than first thought to produce larger-brained babies. The actual fossils remain in Ethiopia.
The discovery will be published in Science this week (Nov. 14) by Semaw, leader of the Gona Project in Ethiopia, where the fossil pelvis was discovered with a group of six other scientists that includes IU Department of Geosciences graduate student Melanie Everett.
Reconstructing pelvis bone fragments from the 1.2 million-year-old adult female, Semaw and his co-workers determined the early ancestor's birth canal was more than 30 percent larger than earlier estimates based on a 1.5-million-year-old juvenile male pelvis found in Kenya. The new female fragments were discovered in the Gona Study Area in Afar, Ethiopia, in 2001 and excavation was completed in 2003.
Scientists also were intrigued by other unique attributes of the specimen, such as its shorter stature and broader body shape more likely seen in hominids adapted to temperate climates, rather than the tall and narrow body believed to have been efficient for endurance running.
Early humans became taller and narrower over time, scientists believe, partly due to long distance running and to help them maintain a constant body temperature. One consequence, however, is that a narrower pelvis would have been less accommodating to producing larger-brained offspring.
But rather than a tall, narrow hominid with the expected slight pelvic region, Semaw and the Gona researchers found evidence of a hominid ready to produce offspring with a much larger brain size.
"The female Homo erectus pelvic anatomy is basically unknown," Semaw said. "And as far as the fossil pelvis of ancestral hominids goes, all we've had is Lucy (dated at 3.2 million years and also found in Ethiopia), and she is very much farther back in time from modern humans."
Scientists studying early man predominantly find fragments of craniums and dental remains, while fossil bones from the neck down are rarely discovered. Even more difficult to verify are Homo erectus fossil bones that can be identified as those belonging to a female.
Scientists had thought early adult Homo erectus females, because of the assumed small birth canal, would produce offspring with only a limited neonatal brain size. These young would have then experienced rapid brain growth while still developmentally immature, leading researchers to envision a scenario of maternal involvement and child-rearing on par with that of modern humans. But those theories had been based upon extrapolations from the existing male skeleton from Kenya.
"This find will give us far more accurate information," Semaw said. Semaw is also a research scientist at the Stone Age Institute, a research center near Bloomington dedicated to the study of early human evolution and culture. It is affiliated with Indiana University's CRAFT, the Center for Research into the Anthropological Foundations of Technology.
Gona has turned out to be a productive dig site for Semaw. In 1997 Semaw and colleagues reported the oldest known stone tools used by ancestral humans. Then in 2004 he coauthored a paper summarizing Gona's geological properties and the site's cornucopia of hominid fossils spanning several million years. At the time, Science gave the article an "Editor's Choice" recognition. In 2005 he and colleagues published an article in Nature announcing the discovery of Ardipithecus ramidus, one of the earliest ancestral hominids, dating between 4.3 and 4.5 million years ago.
Source: Eurekalert 14th Nov 2008

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Skeleton of 12,000-year-old shaman discovered buried with leopard, 50 tortoises and human foot

Credit :Naftali Hilger.

The skeleton of a 12,000 year-old Natufian Shaman has been discovered in northern Israel by archaeologists at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The burial is described as being accompanied by "exceptional" grave offerings - including 50 complete tortoise shells, the pelvis of a leopard and a human foot. The shaman burial is thought to be one of the earliest known from the archaeological record and the only shaman grave in the whole region.
Dr. Leore Grosman of the Institute of Archaeology at the Hebrew University, who is heading the excavation at the Natufian site of Hilazon Tachtit in the western Galilee, says that the elaborate and invested interment rituals and method used to construct and seal the grave suggest that this woman had a very high standing within the community. Details of the discovery were published in the PNAS journal on November 3, 2008.

What was found in the shaman's grave?

The grave contained body parts of several animals that rarely occur in Natufian assemblages. These include fifty tortoises, the near-compete pelvis of a leopard, the wing tip of a golden eagle, tail of a cow, two marten skulls and the forearm of a wild boar which was directly aligned with the woman's left humerus.
A human foot belonging to an adult individual who was substantially larger than the interred woman was also found in the grave.
Dr. Grosman believes this burial is consistent with expectations for a shaman's grave. Burials of shamans often reflect their role in life (i.e., remains of particular animals and contents of healing kits). It seems that the woman was perceived as being in close relationship with these animal spirits.

Method of burial

The body was buried in an unusual position. It was laid on its side with the spinal column, pelvis and right femur resting against the curved southern wall of the oval-shaped grave. The legs were spread apart and folded inward at the knees.
According to Dr. Grosman, ten large stones were placed directly on the head, pelvis and arms of the buried individual at the time of burial. Following decomposition of the body, the weight of the stones caused disarticulation of some parts of the skeleton, including the separation of the pelvis from the vertebral column.
Speculating why the body was held in place in such a way and covered with rocks, Dr. Grosman suggests it could have been to protect the body from being eaten by wild animals or because the community was trying to keep the shaman and her spirit inside the grave.
Analysis of the bones show that the shaman was 45 years old, petite and had an unnatural, asymmetrical appearance due to a spinal disability that would have affected the woman's gait, causing her to limp or drag her foot.

Fifty tortoises

Most remarkably, the woman was buried with 50 complete tortoise shells. The inside of the tortoises were likely eaten as part of a feast surrounding the interment of the deceased. High representation of limb bones indicates that most tortoise remains were thrown into the grave along with the shells after consumption.
The recovery of the limb bones also indicates that entire tortoises, not only their shells, were transported to the cave for the burial. The collection of 50 living tortoises at the time of burial would have required a significant investment, as these are solitary animals. Alternatively, these animals could have been collected and confined by humans for a period preceding the event.
Shaman graves in archaeology
According to Dr. Grosman, the burial of the woman is unlike any burial found in the Natufian or the preceding Paleolithic periods. "Clearly a great amount of time and energy was invested in the preparation, arrangement, and sealing of the grave." This was coupled with the special treatment of the buried body.
Shamans are universally recorded cross-culturally in hunter-gatherer groups and small-scale agricultural societies. Nevertheless, they have rarely been documented in the archaeological record and none have been reported from the Paleolithic of Southwest Asia.
The Natufians existed in the Mediterranean region of the Levant 15,000 to 11,500 years ago. Dr. Grosman suggests this grave could point to ideological shifts that took place due to the transition to agriculture in the region at that time.

Natufian grave site

Hilazon Tachtit is a small cave site next to Carmiel that functioned first and foremost as a Natufian burial ground for at least 28 individuals representing an array of ages.
The collective graves found at the site likely served as primary burial areas that were later re-opened to remove skulls and long bones for secondary burial – a practice common to the Natufian and the following Neolithic cultures.
Only three partially complete primary burials were recovered at Hilazon Tachtit. One was a skeleton of a young adult (sex unknown) reposed in a flexed position on its right side with both hands under his face. The scattered bones of a newborn were found in the area of the missing pelvis and it appears that the newborn and the young adult, possibly the mother, were buried together.

Source:Eurekalert 5/11/08

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Details of Evolutionary Transition from Fish to Land Animals Revealed

New research has provided the first detailed look at the internal head skeleton of Tiktaalik roseae, the 375-million-year-old fossil animal that represents an important intermediate step in the evolutionary transition from fish to animals that walked on land.
Results of the study, published in this week's issue of the journal Nature, show that the transition from aquatic to terrestrial lifestyle involved complex changes not only to appendages (fins to limbs) but also to the internal head skeleton.
"Exquisite specimens of Tiktaalik roseae discovered several years ago continue to function as rosetta stones for understanding the emergence of quadripeds on land," said H. Richard Lane, program director in the National Science Foundation (NSF)'s Division of Earth Sciences, which funded the research.
A team co-led by scientist Ted Daeschler at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia discovered Tiktaalik roseae (tik-TAHL-ik RO-zay) in 2004, in Devonian-age rock on Ellesmere Island in Canada, more than 700 miles above the Arctic Circle.
The creature was a large aquatic predator with a flattened head and body.
The body plan and nature of the deposits where the fossils were found suggest an animal that lived on the bottom in shallow water, and perhaps out of the water for short periods.
Tiktaalik roseae has features of the skull, neck, ribs and appendages that are shared with the earliest limbed animals (tetrapods), as well as fishlike features such as scales and fin rays. This mosaic of features makes it a textbook example of a transitional fossil, say paleontologists.
Jason Downs, a scientist at the Academy of Natural Sciences and lead author of this week's paper, said the examination of the internal head skeleton further demonstrates the intermediacy of Tiktaalik roseae.
"The braincase, palate and gill arches of Tiktaalik help reveal the pattern of evolutionary change in this part of the skeleton," said Downs. "We see that cranial features once associated with land-living animals were in fact the first adaptations for life in shallow water."
"The gradual evolutionary transition from fish to tetrapod, and the transition from aquatic to terrestrial lifestyles required much more than the evolution of limbs," said Daeschler. "The head of these animals was becoming more solidly constructed and, at the same time, more mobile with respect to the body across this transition."
Trends in head shape include a flattening of the skull and a lengthening of the snout.
Using several well-preserved specimens of Tiktaalik roseae, the research helps document the relative timing of the particular skeletal changes associated with changes in head shape.
"We used to think of this transition of the neck and skull as a rapid event, largely because we lacked information about the intermediate animals," said Neil Shubin of the University of Chicago, who co-led the team that discovered Tiktaalik roseae. "Tiktaalik neatly fills this morphological gap, and helps to resolve the timing of this complex transition."
During this transition, interactions among the different parts of the head skeleton also were changing.
"Fish in deep water move and feed in three-dimensional space, and can easily orient their bodies in the direction of their prey," said Farish Jenkins, Jr., an evolutionary biologist at Harvard University and co-author of the paper. "A mobile neck is advantageous in settings where the body is relatively fixed, as is the case in shallow water and on land."
It took more than a year for fossil preparators C. Frederick Mullison, of The Academy in Philadelphia, and Bob Masek, of the University of Chicago, to expose and preserve the delicate details in the fossil head skeleton.

Source: National Science Foundation 16 th October 2008.

Friday, 10 October 2008

Primordial fish had rudimentary fingers.

Tetrapods, the first four-legged land animals, are regarded as the first organisms that had fingers and toes. Now researchers at Uppsala University can show that this is wrong. Using medical x-rays, they found rudiments of fingers in the fins in fossil Panderichthys, the “transitional animal,” which indicates that rudimentary fingers developed considerably earlier than was previously thought.
Our fish ancestors evolved into the first four-legged animals, tetrapods, 380 million years ago. They are the forerunners of all birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians. Since limbs and their fingers are so important to evolution, researchers have long wondered whether they appeared for the first time in tetrapods, or whether they had evolved from elements that already existed in their fish ancestors.
When they examined genes that are necessary for the evolution of fins in zebrafish (a ray-finned fish that is a distant relative of coelacanth fishes) and compared them with the gene that regulates the development of limbs in mice, researchers found that zebrafish lacked the genetic mechanisms that are necessary for the development of fingers. It was therefore concluded that fingers appeared for the first time in tetrapods. This reading was supported by the circumstance that the fossil Panderichthys, a “transitional animal” between fish and tetrapod, appeared to lack finger rudiments in their fins.
In the present study, to be published in Nature, medical x-rays (CT scans) were used to reconstruct a three-dimensional image of Panderichthys fins. The results show hitherto undiscovered elements that constitute rudiments of fingers in the fins. Similar rudiments have been demonstrated once in the past, two years ago in Tiktaaliks, which is a more tetrapod-like group. Together with information about fin development in sharks, paddlefish, and Australian lungfish, the scientists can now definitively conclude that fingers were not something new in tetrapods.
“This was the key piece of the puzzle that confirms that rudimentary fingers were already present in ancestors of tetrapods,” says Catherine Boisvert.


Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Roman York skeleton could be early TB victim

The skeleton of a man discovered by archaeologists in a shallow grave on the site of the University of York’s campus expansion could be that of one of Britain’s earliest victims of tuberculosis.

Radiocarbon dating suggests that the man died in the fourth century. He was interred in a shallow scoop in a flexed position, on his left side.

The man, aged 26-35 years, suffered from iron deficiency anaemia during childhood and at 162 centimetres (5ft 4in), was a shorter height than average for Roman males.

The first known case of TB in Britain is from the Iron Age (300 BC) but cases in the Roman period are fairly rare, and largely confined to the southern half of England. TB is most frequent from the 12th century AD in England when people were living in urban environments. So the skeleton may provide crucial evidence for the origin and development of the disease in this country.

The remains were discovered during archaeological investigations on the site of the University’s £500 million expansion at Heslington East. Archaeologists unearthed the skeleton close to the perimeter of the remains of a late-Roman masonry building discovered on the site, close to the route of an old Roman road between York and Barton-on-Humber.

The burial site is on part of the campus that will not be built on. The University is developing plans for community archaeology and education visits once the investigations are complete.

Detailed analysis of the skeleton by Malin Holst, of York Osteoarchaeology Ltd, revealed that a likely cause of death was tuberculosis which affected the man’s spine and pelvis. She says that it is possible that he contracted the disease as a child from infected meat or milk from cattle, but equally the infection could have been inhaled into the lungs. The disease then lay dormant until adulthood when the secondary phase of the disease took its toll.

Heslington East Fieldwork Officer Cath Neal, of the University’s Department of Archaeology, said: “This was a remarkable find and detailed study of this skeleton will provide us with important clues about the emergence of tuberculosis in late-Roman Britain, but also information about what life was like in York more than 1,500 years ago.

“A burial such as this, close to living quarters, is unusual for this period when most burials were in formal cemeteries. It is possible that the man was buried here because the tuberculosis infection was so rare at the time, and people were reluctant to transport the body any distance.”

Malin Holst added: “There were signs of muscular trauma and strong muscle attachments indicating that the individual undertook repeated physical activity while he was in good health. There was some intensive wear and chipping on his front teeth which may have been the result of repeated or habitual activity. There was evidence for infection of the bone in both lower limbs but this appeared to be healing at death.”

Investigation of the remains is continuing -- Professor Charlotte Roberts, of Durham University, with Professor Terry Brown at Manchester University, is now studying DNA from the skeleton as part of National Environmental Research Council funded research into the origin, evolution and spread of the bacteria that causes TB in Britain and parts of Europe.

Source: University of York;17th September 2008.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Study shows 28,000-year-old Europeans' DNA was like ours

40,000 years ago, the Cro-Magnoid people – the first people who had a skeleton that looked anatomically modern – entered Europe, coming from Africa. In the July 16 issue of the open-access journal PLoS ONE, a group of geneticists, coordinated by Guido Barbujani and David Caramelli of the Universities of Ferrara and Florence, shows that a Cro-Magnoid individual who lived in Southern Italy 28,000 years ago was a modern European, genetically as well as anatomically.

The Cro-Magnoid people long coexisted in Europe with other humans, the Neandertals, whose anatomy and DNA were clearly different from ours. However, obtaining a reliable sequence of Cro-Magnoid DNA was technically challenging.

"The risk in the study of ancient individuals is to attribute to the fossil specimen the DNA left there by archaeologists or biologists who manipulated it", Barbujani says. "To avoid that, we followed all phases of the retrieval of the fossil bones and typed the DNA sequences of all people who had any contacts with them."

The results demonstrate for the first time that the anatomical differences between Neandertals and Cro-Magnoids were associated with clear genetic differences. The Neandertal people, who lived in Europe for nearly 300,000 years, are not the ancestors of modern Europeans.

Caramelli D, Milani L, Vai S, Modi A, Pecchioli E, et al. (2008) A 28,000 Years Old Cro-Magnon mtDNA Sequence Differs from All Potentially Contaminating Modern Sequences. PLoS ONE 3(7): e2700. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0002700


Thursday, 27 March 2008

Little Foot and big thoughts—a re-evaluation of the Stw573

R. Kidd,, C. Oxnard
School of Science Food and Horticulture, University of Western Sydney, Campbelltown, NSW
2560, Australia.
School of Anatomy and Human Biology, University of Western Australia, Stirling Highway,
Crawley, WA 6009, Australia.


The part of the fossil assemblage Stw573 consisting of some medial foot bones was initially reported by Clarke & Tobias (Science 269 (2002) 521). They found it to have both ape- and human-like qualities, being human-like proximally and ape-like distally. We have undertaken a re-examination of this pedal assemblage using a multivariate analysis; while we also found ape- and human-like qualities, they are in direct conflict with the original findings of Clarke and Tobias. We report an essentially ape-like morphology proximally and a human-like morphology distally; the talus and navicular were found to be ape-like and the medial cuneiform human-like. We also undertook a morphometric analysis of the medial cuneiform from the fossil assemblage OH8, as this was not included in the original OH8 study of Kidd et
al (J Hum Evol 31 (1996) 269); this cuneiform was found to have a human-like morphology.Thus, the medial column findings from the two assemblages are very similar. This finding,coupled with the re-evaluation of the stratigraphy at Sterkfontein (Am J Phys Anthrop 119(2002) 192), suggests that the two may have been contemporaneous.

We also note that three broad patterns of modification have been identified, equating to proximal–distal lateral–medial (cranio–caudal) and dorsal–plantar(posterior–anterior). It has not escaped our notice that these patterns are each controlled by specific genes or growth factors; we thus see a morphometric expression of our developmental past.


That the human foot evolved from some variety of primitive hominoid ancestral stock is not held in doubt. In doing so it has changed in many features, some large scale and obvious, others more subtle. Three large scale modifications stand apart. These may be summarised as follows: (1) a change in the size and proportions of the pedal skeletal segments with the tarsus becoming much greater in humans; (2) the presence of a divergent first ray and opposable first digit in all apes but not in humans; and (3) the presence of the related longitudinal and transverse arch structures in humans but their absence in all other hominoids. These major features, plus a myriad of minor ones distinguish the human foot from that of apes. There is little doubt that the human foot evolved in a mosaic manner, with certain critical features attaining a human form before others. To understand their sequence, a number of questions need to be answered. For instance, did the lateral pedal column, broadly describing the lateral longitudinal arch, become human-like before or after the medial longitudinal arch? Similarly, did the first toe achieve a state of apposition before or after arch formation? And at what stage did the segmental proportions of the evolving foot become human-like? Some clue may be found by scrutiny of the fossil record, though this is frustratingly sparse with no complete prehuman specimens being available. The most complete is that from East Africa, the OH8 foot from Olduvai, but even this is missing certain vital parts, namely portions of the calcaneus, the metatarsal heads and all digits.

In a previous study (Kidd et al 1994, 1996) the four hindmost tarsal elements of this foot were studied morphometrically and unequivocal evidence for mixed functional affinities was found, the medial side being ape-like and the lateral column(with due caveat for the incomplete calcaneus) being human-like. The medial
cuneiform was not reported. Clarke and Tobias (1995) also report on a fossil foot
assemblage, that known as Stw573, consisting of the talus, navicular, medial
cuneiform and first ray fragment from Sterkfontein Cave, Member 2 and attributed
to the species Australopithecus africanus. They also observed mixed affinities, both
human- and ape-like features, though in a manner differing from our findings with OH; they describe the talus to be essentially human-like, the navicular to be of mixed ape and human morphology, and the medial cuneiform to be largely ape-like. Their findings are clearly in conflict with those of the OH8 study, and they do not
seem to be reconcilable with either the OH8 findings of Kidd et al (1996), nor the
model of human pedal evolution predicted in part from the OH8 study (Kidd 1995,1998, 1999). The basis of the findings of Clarke and Tobias is not quantitative; they do not report a metrical analysis. It is appropriate, therefore, to undertake a morphometric analysis of the Stw573 fossil assemblage to establish the functional
affinities of the tarsal elements and to see if the quite different findings of the two assemblages may be reconciled. In addition, in order to present a complete and
unambiguous picture, the OH8 foot is revisited with an analysis of the medial cuneiform to complete the analyses presented in Kidd et al (1996).

Materials and methods

The materials used in the current study consist of the talus, navicular, medial cuneiform and first metatarsal from Stw573, the medial cuneiform (good quality cast) of OH8, and samples of four extant species, namely human (Homo sapiens), chimpanze(Pan troglodytes),gorilla (Gorilla gorilla), and orang-utan (Pongo pygmaeus).Females and males from each species were treated as groups in their own right, and as far as was possible, were equally represented. The samples used consisted of 20 males and females from each group with the exception of orang-utans in which only 17 females and 10 males were available. Chimpanzee and gorilla specimens were made available courtesy of the Powell-Cotton Museum, England and the orang-utan samples by the Smithsonian Museum, Washington DC. The human sample was made up from two groups in roughly equal proportion, namely British and Zulu. While it is recognised that there are definite, though subtle differences in bony morphology in different human subgroups, these are very small in comparison to those between humans as a whole, and apes. Thus, no attempt was made in this study to sample human variation.Bony shape changes associated with ontogeny, particularly in its early stages are well reported (e.g. Straus 1927; Lisowski 1967); thus specimens used in this study were restricted to nearly adult or adult specimens. Measurements were taken from elements of the left foot wherever a possible, previous statistical studies having shown there to be no significant difference between sides (Kidd 1995).

Problems in the design of variables

The choice of variable in a study such as this is of the utmost importance. In order to gain as much information as possible regarding functional affinities, it is crucial that the variables chosen represent features that are of biomechanical importance in relation to foot function. Most of the variables chosen may be defined as interlandmark distances, though two were angular and both from the talus.

The problem of homology
The comparison of comparable structures from different species may run into problems associated with analogy and homology. Obvious examples such as the wings of an insect and of a bird are clear-cut and do not cause confusion; compared structures are derived from entirely non-related anatomical elements. However, issues might arise with the comparison of the wings in birds and bats; they are both derived from the pentadactyl forelimb, though not from exactly the same parts. In the case of tarsal elements, achieving exact homology may be neither obvious nor possible. An example from the talus lies in the facet on the head for the plantar calcaneo-navicular ligament, clearly identifiable in humans but not so in apes. Such a feature must be accounted for in the definition of the dimension.

Definition of variables
Measurements obtained from the three bones were defined in the following
manner. Most of the measured dimensions have been defined in the Martin’s technique(Knussmann 1988), but below all are fully described to provide a uniform and comprehensive list.

The talus
The following standard references were defined after Lisowski et al (1974). The standard talar basal plane was defined as the position the talus assumes when it is resting on the tip of the posterior and lateral tubercles and the most inferior aspect of the head. The median sagittal talar plane is the sagittal plane which passes along the midline of the trochlea perpendicular to the standard talar basal plane. The coronal talar plane is the plane which passes through the tip of the lateral tubercle perpendicular to the former two planes. The median trochlear arc is the shape produced by the intersection of the median sagittal talar plane and the superior trochlear surface. The median talar neck plane is the plane which lies in the midline of the neck and is perpendicular to the talar basal plane.The trochlear-head plane is the plane which intersects with the most superior points of the trochlear margins and the talar head. This plane is obtained from the position assumed by the inverted talus. Using these standard planes and definitions the following linear or angular dimensions were obtained:

(1) The maximum medial height is the projected height from the standard basal talar
plane to the highest point on the medial margin of the trochlear facet.
(2) The maximum lateral height is the projected height from the standard talar basal
plane to the highest point on the lateral margin of the trochlear facet.
(3) The maximum median height of the talus is the projected height from the talar
basal plane to highest point on the median trochlear arc.
The above three measurements were obtained by resting the talus upon a glass
plate of known thickness, the measurement being from the underneath surface of the
glass to the required maximum height. The thickness of the glass was included in the
raw data collection to avoid confusion and subsequently subtracted.
(4) The transverse trochlear breadth is the distance between the medial and lateral
margins of the trochlear facet taken in the coronal talar plane.
(5) The anterior trochlear breadth is the maximum distance between the trochlear
margins parallel to the coronal plane.
(6) The posterior trochlear breadth is the minimum breadth of the trochlear margins
taken parallel to the coronal talar plane.
(7) The long dimension of the head is defined as the length of the long dimension of
the talo-navicular articulation of the head and is measured obliquely along its
long axis.
(8) The short dimension of the head is defined as the length of the short dimension of
the talo-navicular articulation of the head and is measured at right-angles to the
long dimension. This dimension includes the facet for the spring ligament where
(9) The maximum functional length is the measured distance length from the groove
for the tendon of muscle flexor hallucis longus posteriorly to the intersection of
the talar neck plane and the articular surface for the navicular.
(10) The maximum breadth is measured from the tip of lateral tubercle to medial
talar margin. The dimension is taken in the coronal talar plane.
(11) The trochlear chord is the length of the chord connecting the intersections of the
median trochlear arc and the anterior and posterior margins of the superior
trochlear facet.
(12) The medial facet length is the maximum distance between the anterior border
and posterior tip of the medial facet.
(13) The lateral facet length is defined as the maximum distance between the anterior
and posterior borders of the lateral facet at their intersection with the superior
trochlear surface.
(14) The maximum neck diameter is the diameter of the talar neck measured
obliquely, coinciding with the long axis of the head.
(15) The minimum neck diameter is the diameter of the talar neck measured at right
angles to above, coinciding with the short axis of the head.
(16) The talar neck-body angle is defined as the angle subtended by the intersection of
the median sagittal talar plane and the median talar neck plane.
(17) The talar head torsion angle is defined as the angle subtended by the long
bisection of the talar head and the trochlear-head plane. The smaller size of the navicular and medial cuneiform compared to the talus means that definition of the position of the bone relative to body planes is not practical. Variables are defined in terms of gross morphology of the bones as an alternative.

The navicular
The horizontal plane coincident with the long axis of the bone, bisecting the proximal and distal articular facets was considered to be analogous to the transverse plane. The corresponding planes perpendicular to this, bisecting the bone into anterior and posterior portions and medial and lateral portions were considered to be analogous to the coronal plane and sagittal plane respectively. The following dimensions were obtained with reference to the above assumed planar references.

(1) The long talar facet dimension is defined as the maximum dimension of the talar
(2) The short talar facet dimension is defined as the minimum dimension of the talar
(3) The long cuneiform facet dimension is defined as the maximum dimension of the
cuneiform measured in the transverse plane.
(4) The maximum short cuneiform dimension is defined as the maximum span of the
short cuneiform dimension and is measured in the sagittal plane.
(5) The minimum short cuneiform dimension is defined as the minimum span of the
short cuneiform dimension and is measured in the sagittal plane.
(6) The maximum navicular breadth is measured in the anatomical position.
(7) The maximum height is measured in the anatomical position.
(8) The sagittal plane thickness is the maximum dimension between the talar facet
posteriorly and the cuneiform facet anteriorly measured with respect to the
sagittal plane.
(9) The tuberosity projection is the maximum projection of the navicular tuberosity
medially beyond the margin of the talar facet.

The medial cuneiform
The markedly different morphology of the hominid and pongid bone, largely due to the facet for the first metatarsal, means that a comparable reference position is not possible for all species. In humans, the vertical plane coincident with the long axis of the bone, bisecting the proximal and distal articular facets was considered to be analogous to the sagittal plane. The corresponding planes perpendicular to this,bisecting the bone into superior and inferior portions, and medial and lateral
portions, were considered to be equivalent to the transverse plane and coronal plane
respectively. In the case of apes, the vertical plane was defined about the anterior
facet alone.

(1) The anterior facet height is the maximum height of the anterior articular facet
measured in the assumed sagittal plane.
(2) The anterior facet breadth is measured at right angles to (1) at the maximum
(3) The posterior facet height is the maximum height of the posterior articular facet
measured in the assumed sagittal plane.
(4) The posterior facet breadth is measured at right angles to (3) at the maximum
(5) The posterior height is defined as the maximum bone dimension at its posterior
aspect, measured in the sagittal plane.
(6) The posterior breadth is measured at right angles to (5) at the maximum span.
(7) The anterior plantar breadth is defined as the maximum dimension of the plantar
surface, measured in the transverse plane.
(8) The anterior dorsal breadth is as for (7) but for the dorsal surface.
(9) The anterior height is as for (5) but for the anterior aspect.
(10) The maximum dorsal length is measured dorsally, on the antero-lateral aspect
from the extremes of the posterior facet and the anterior facet.
(11) Maximum plantar length is measured plantarly, from the extremes anteriorly
and posteriorly.

The first metatarsal.

The Stw573 first metatarsal is fragmentary with only the base and a portion,perhaps a third of the shaft, being present. Thus, available dimensions for analysis are very limited. In fact, early exploratory analyses revealed quite clearly that no
discrimination was possible upon the basis of the available part; therefore, this boneis not considered further.

The evaluation of error
In order to test for the presence of intra-observer error, a reproducibility study was undertaken in which all dimensions were measured on six of each tarsal element
on six separate occasions. A two-way analysis of variance without replication was
then undertaken (Sokal & Rohlf 1981) to establish the degree of variation within the replicates for each bone (intra-observer error) compared with the natural variation between the six measured bones. In each of the inter-landmark distance dimensions,the error associated with replicate measurements was found to be significantly less than the real variation between bones ðPo0:05Þ: In the case of the talar angular dimensions, some variation in replicates was noted. However, it was considered valid to include these data for the following reasons. First, there is no significant difference between sexes of the same species and second, there is a significant difference between the apes as a whole and humans. All linear dimensions were obtained using standard osteometric calipers with digital readout. Angular values were obtained by a geometric calculation from digitised photographs. All photographs used for data collection were taken in carefully referenced positions to minimise distortions resulting from camera or object orientation. Inter-observer error was not relevant in this study as all data were collected by one investigator (RSK).

Precision of measurements
Linear data were recorded to 0.1 mm. Angles were recorded in degrees to one decimal place. While it is recognised that this level of accuracy is spurious, it was
considered best to record as such as it was the level of significance produced by the
digitising program and it removed the possibility of human error in rounding.

Problems of measurement of the fragmentary Stw573 talus.
While the fossil assemblage was remarkably complete, there was some erosion of the base of the lateral margin. This landmark is important for the purposes of mensuration of some dimensions, for instance the lateral talar height; thus, some
intelligent reconstruction was required such that estimations could be made. In the
interests of accuracy, several reconstructions were made, but in exploratory analyses,it was found that they made little difference to the actual result with no change in subsequent interpretation of the fossil.

Analytical methods
An initial univariate analysis was undertaken in which the spreads of the individual values for each dimension were compared in each species group. The standard univariate descriptors: the mean, standard deviation, coefficients of variation and distribution shape, were examined. While it may seem superfluous in a multivariate study, this preliminary analysis had three prime objectives. First, it is an essential step in interpretation of subsequent multivariate analyses. Second, it is a most useful way of identifying incorrectly recorded data, for instance a misplaced decimal point. Third, it gives a broad comparison of size differences between the groups. Subsequently, Student ‘‘t’’ tests were undertaken to investigate significance of differences of means between groups. There was no evidence to suggest that any of the variables were not normally distributed.

Plots of means against their standard deviations showed a strong positive regression for most dimensions. As a result the data were subsequently transformed to their natural logarithms. A series of similar plots using the transformed data did not show a significant regression in the vast majority of variables. It was therefore
considered prudent to use log-transformed data for the subsequent multivariate
analyses. The multivariate objective of the study was to establish the morphological
affinities between the groups using canonical variates analysis [CVA] (Albrecht 1980,
1992; Reyment et al 1984). We note that in recent years several techniques have been
developed which may provide information in excess of that made available by CVA,
loosely known as ‘‘geometric morphometrics’’. However, it is felt that in order to
have a direct comparison to the OH8 study of Kidd et al (1996) the same techniques
should be used. Computations were undertaken using PC SAS 6.12 (SAS 1988) which produces four standard outputs for subsequent scrutiny: mean values for each group on each canonical variate, eigenvalues of each canonical variate (indicating the proportion of total information contained within the variate), canonical coefficients, and Mahalanobis’s D2 distance matrix.

A series of indices were constructed from the linear inter-landmark distances. The
primary reason for using these indices, however, was not to remove the gross effects
of size (which, incidentally, did swamp the preliminary analyses of log transformed
data). It was to emphasise biomechanically important features of the osseous morphology. The problems associated with the use of indices to deal with size are
well recognised (e.g. Corruccini 1975; Atchley et al 1976; Albrecht 1993). However,
where the intention is primarily to emphasise those features thought to be of
mechanical importance rather than as a deliberate attempt to remove the effects of raw size, their application is not only useful, it is essential. In fact, they are the only way to emphasise those parts of the anatomy which are of mechanical importance.The length of one lever arm is of no importance biomechanically; the ratio of two lever arms is the biomechanically critical variable. Table 1 notes the indices used in the final analysis, the anatomical features that they define and indicates possible biomechanical rationale.

In addition, to allow an assessment of ‘‘overall similarity’’ of the fossil assemblage compared to the extant species, an integrated analysis has been undertaken of the indices from all bones. In all multivariate analyses used in this study, the fossil was entered directly as a part of the original calculation, though with a sample size of one, rather than by subsequent interpolation into the matrix of extant species.

Univariate analysis

The univariate results were difficult to interpret. With respect to some dimensions,
the fossil seemed to have ape-like values, while in other respects it appeared to be
more human-like. For instance, scrutiny of talar index two which describes the
relationship between the medial and lateral heights, would suggest the fossil is most
similar to humans and most distant from gorillas, yet the same scrutiny but of talar index one would suggest the fossil to be most similar to chimpanzees and most distant from orang-utans. While differences between sexes within species, and
between the species and the isolated fossil may be discerned in most cases, the degree of overlap is great and the position of the fossil quite variable. Thus, a multivariate approach is indispensable.

Multivariate analysis
In the analysis of indices from each of the three bones individually, the majority of
discrimination lies within the first two variates, together accounting for at least 91% in all bones and over 95% in the medial cuneiform. The group mean scores along the first, second and third variates are given in Table 2a, and the Mahanalobis’s distance matrix for individual bones given in Table 3a. The same information but for the integrated study is given in Tables 2b and 3b. The first variate contains notably
differing amounts for each bone, 53% in the talus, 69% in the navicular but over 82% in the medial cuneiform. There is a corresponding inverse relationship with that held in the second variate: 38% in the talus, 24% in the navicular and only 12% in
the medial cuneiform. The third variate in each case contains in the order of 4–6%
and later variates only 1% or less. The first two variates between them account for
the vast majority of the discrimination, the between group differences. Thus, though
they were carefully examined and considered, they are not figured.

The talus
The first variate provides a marked separation of humans from apes as a whole, there being about 4 standard deviation units (SDU) between the mean positions of humans and the nearest ape (male chimpanzees). The fossil occupies a position very closely aligned with African apes. The main indices supporting this discrimination are the height index (ind1), the talar neck angle (ind10), and to a lesser extent, the head torsion angle (ind11) and the trochlear groove index (ind2). The second variate demonstrates considerably less separation of groups, with apes occupying both extremes of the variate and humans in between. Notwithstanding this, it does separate quite clearly African and Asian apes, with about 4 SDU between them. The isolated fossil is more-or-less equidistant between African and Asian apes, closely aligned with humans. The most important dimensions affording this discrimination are the trochlear groove index (ind2), the breadth index (ind6),and to a slightly lesser extent, the height index (ind1) and trochlear breadth index(ind4).

A plot of the first two variates clearly separates into three groups:African apes,
Asian apes and humans.The fossil is quite clearly not positioned closely to any of
these groups, but its nearest group is the chimpanzees at 2.5 SDU (Fig. 1),the
human groups being approximately 3.5SDU distant.

The navicular
The first variate separates orang-utans from African apes by nearly 5 SDU.Humans are positioned between them, though much closer to African apes. The isolated fossil lies among the African apes. The major feature supporting this discrimination is the tuberosity index (ind6), though an important contribution is made by the height and thickness indices (inds4&5),and the maximum cuneiform facet index (ind3).

The second variate convincingly discriminates humans from all apes by a minimum of 2 SDU, though it does not provide any discrimination among the ape groups.The isolated fossil navicular lies along the margin of the ape groups, clearly separated from humans. The main dimensions contributing to this discrimination are the tuberosity index (ind6) and the height and thickness indices (inds4&5).This is probably best explained by the somewhat oblique nature of the plot; thus these
dimensions are being expressed in both the first and second variates,though in a
different manner in each.

A plot of the first two variates reveals a clear separation into the same three groups as found with the talus: humans, African apes and orang-utans. The plot also reveals quite clearly the close affinity of the fossil navicular to those of the African apes (Fig.2). This affinity is confirmed by inspection of the Mahanalobis distance matrix(Table 3a).

The medial cuneiform (Stw573)
The first variate provides a good separation of humans at the positive end of the variate, from chimpanzees at the negative end, of about 9 SDU.Gorillas and orangutans are positioned roughly equidistantly between the two. The fossil bone lies
about 1SDU even more positively than the human group. This separation is largely
afforded by just one dimension, the length index (ind6),though others contribute to
lesser degrees.

The second variate provides a clear discrimination of orang-utans from all other
groups, with the isolated fossil lying roughly equidistant between them.The main
dimensions affording this discrimination are the two anterior breadth indices(inds4&5), though others are also minor contributors.A plot of the first two variates confirms the findings above and serves to emphasise the discriminations (Fig. 3).The fossil cuneiform shows a quite clear affinity with the human groups, a finding confirmed absolutely by the Mahanalobis distance matrix (Table 3a).

The medial cuneiform (OH8)
All findings with the exception of the fossil are practically identical to those above.A plot of the first two variates clearly reveals the position of the OH8 bone to be in the close proximity of humans, in a manner remarkably similar to that of the same bone of Stw573.The same dimensions afford this discrimination with respect to both variates (Fig. 4, Table 3a).

The integrated analysis (Stw573)
An examination of a plot of the first two variates of the integrated analysis is, at
first glance, remarkably similar to that of the medial cuneiform alone, though
horizontally inverted. It thus provides the same separation of orang-utans from all
other groups.However, the degree of discrimination,particularly along the second
variate is very considerably greater being in the order of 10 SDU, clearly indicating
that further information, not found in the cuneiform alone,is being displayed. The
fossil assemblage lies closest to humans, being 2SDU from them, and about 7SDU from the nearest ape group (Fig. 5),borne out by the Mahanalobis distance matrix(Table 3b).

Equally of interest,a plot of the first and third variates displays a separation of
gorillas by about 3SDU from all other groups,the fossil assemblage again being close to humans (not shown). A plot of the first and fourth canonical variates (not shown) provides no separation between extant groups,but does provide separation of the fossil from the extant groups as a whole; this discrimination is statistically
significant ðPo0:01Þ:

The integrated analysis (OH8)
All findings with the exception of the fossil are practically identical to those above. A plot of the first two variates clearly reveals the position of the OH8bone to be broadly equidistant between human, gorillas and orang-utans though marginally closer to humans (Fig. 6). This is confirmed by inspection of the Mahanalobis distance matrix (Table 3b):the fossil assemblage is marginally closer to humans than gorillas or orang-utans, and considerably distant to chimpanzees.

The extant species
The four bones, comprising the talus, navicular, medial cuneiform and first
metatarsal form a substantial part of the medial border of the foot.The talus,
together with the calcaneus, represents the posterior portion of the long arch with the midtarsal (transverse tarsal) separating them from the navicular medially,and the cuboid laterally. The midtarsal joint is essentially the apex of the longitudinal arch and as such, is of critical importance. It is not surprising, therefore, that this unit,perhaps more than any other in the foot, has undergone intense evolutionary changes as a component of assuming a bipedal gait. The most obvious large-scale change is that of an overall decrease in motion at this joint, brought about by various modifications, largely bony (Elftman & Manter 1935),but also soft tissue,particularly with respect of the naviculo-cuboid articulation(Lewis 1980; Gomberg 1985).

On the lateral column,the most profound change may be seen in the cuboid with the obvious prolongation of the calcaneus process found in humans but barely noticeable in apes; this structure is of critical functional importance in the manner in which it ‘‘locks’’ into the calcaneus, restricting movement.It is a major factor in
maintaining the lateral longitudinal arch.

On the medial column, an obvious change is that of a ‘‘plantarflexion set’’ to the
talus, resulting in a more steeply positioned talo-navicular joint, affording it a
greater dynamic stability. The other major change in the medial column is to the
talar neck and head torsion angles. The talar neck angle, while being difficult to be
precise, has been correlated with the presence or absence of the divergent first ray
(Volkov 1903, 1904; Duckworth 1904; Straus 1927; Lisowski 1967). That is, a wide talar neck angle is indicative of the presence of a divergent first ray while a narrow angle indicates a non-divergent first ray. In extant apes the angle is wide, while in humans it is narrow (Table 4).

The head torsion angle, while clearly different in humans and apes (Table 4), is perhaps not so easily dismissed, as its explanation is rather more obscure. The
midtarsal joint in humans not only has a decreased range of motion generally, but
also a more variable range of motion. Elftman (1960) describes a restraining mechanism of the midtarsal complex, controlling the range of motion available.
When the subtalar joint complex is everted (pronated), the axes (i.e. bisection lines)of the talonavicular and calcaneocuboid joints are approximately aligned; as a direct consequence, the direction of greatest freedom of movement at the two joints is also aligned. While in this arrangement, the associated ligamentous structures are in a slackened state. Thus, the range of movement of the midtarsal complex is at its greatest. As a consequence, the long arch is able to elongate upon weight bearing; the additional movement allows for shock absorption and occurs during the initial phase of stance, directly after the heel contacts the ground (Wright et al 1964; Inman 1976).

Conversely, when the subtalar complex is inverted (supinated), the same two axes
(bisection lines) assume a decidedly oblique relationship. The result is that the
direction of greatest freedom of movement at the two joints is now not coincident;
the range of movement at the midtarsal joint is now restricted. Associated
ligamentous structures are now taut and, in addition, the two joints are stacked
up upon each other and this reduces bending stresses (Close et al 1967). These factorsare collectively responsible for rendering the arch more stable and afford a greater degree of rigidity important in the later propulsive phase of locomotion. This variable range of motion has often been cited as an important adaptation for bipedal gait (e.g. Inman et al 1981; Langdon et al 1991) and was considered in some detail with respect to functional affinities of OH8 in Kidd et al (1996).

The midtarsal joint divides the foot into a fore-part and a hind-part. However, the
foot as a whole may also be considered in terms of two longitudinal units, the medial
and lateral columns. The medial column consists of the talus, navicular, the three
cuneiforms and structures distal to them. The lateral column consists of the calcaneus,cuboid and their distal structures. In the human foot the two columns form discrete components of the longitudinal arch. In many respects, therefore, one may summarise the stability of the lateral arch in terms of calcaneo-cuboid modifications, the medial arch in terms of talo-navicular modifications; for Stw573, we are only able to comment upon those modifications pertinent to the medial long arch
Interpolation of the fossil specimens

The Stw573 assemblage, more commonly referred to as ‘‘little foot’’,clearly
represents a major portion of the medial column, though obviously truncated with
much of the first ray missing. Also missing are the other two cuneiforms and their
rays. Thus, any functional interpretation must be based upon a comparison of the
medial column of humans, apes and other fossils alone.Clarke and Tobias find this
assemblage to have ape-like and human-like features, being most human-like
proximally and becoming more ape-like distally. However, the basis for this
judgement is not obvious; they do not present a metrical result. We are thus
presented with a paradox: this ape-human division is clearly fore-hind, while that found in the OH8 study was medial-lateral. In addition, we find the Stw573 talus, to be decidedly ape-like, though perhaps not so much so, as with the OH8 talus. In addition,to compound the paradox, we find the navicular to be decidedly ape-like, in an extremely similar manner to that of OH8. And still further,we find the medial
cuneiform of both OH8 (not examined previously) and Stw573 to be decidedly humanlike.
The differences between our findings and those of Clarke and Tobias are not reconcilable, though it should be emphasised that our findings with respect of Stw573
are reconcilable with those of the pertinent elements of the OH8 study (Kidd et al 1996).The Stw573 talus has decidedly ape-like features,perhaps particularly with respect of the head torsion and neck angles. The former is strongly indicative of a mobile talo-navicular component of the midtarsal joint,and is clearly not indicative of a human-like function; it simply would not have the stability required to maintain a medial longitudinal arch. The talar neck angle of the Stw573 talus is notably ape-like and on its own would suggest quite strongly the presence of a divergent first ray.Certainly this was one of the suggestions made by Kidd et al(1996) with respect of the Olduvai foot, though it must be emphasised that this was based upon findings from the four hindmost bones alone.

The OH8 study provides a clear dichotomy of structure with human-like features
laterally and ape-like features medially.If one makes the assumption that OH8 is a
human ancestor it is possible to speculate constructively, in the light of the OH8
study, as to the chronology of evolutionary modifications that have taken place to
form the modern, human midtarsal joint.And, in so much as the medial and lateral
components of the longitudinal arch of the human foot are inextricably a part of the
medial and lateral columns described earlier, some constructive speculation may be
suggested as to the sequence of events in arch formation.

The well-developed calcaneo-cuboid joint in OH8 is strongly indicative of a stable
lateral column.This in turn suggests the presence of at least a degree of lateral
longitudinal arching in this foot. On the other hand, the low head torsion angle is
highly indicative of an undeveloped midtarsal restraining mechanism.Thus, the
presence of the lateral components of these modifications,but the absence of
equivalent medial components, may be seen as evidence as to the chronology of
evolutionary events.It would appear that formation of the lateral longitudinal arch,
together with increased calcaneo-cuboid stability was an early evolutionary event in
the history of terrestrial bipedalism in hominids.The equivalent modifications to the medial side of the foot seem to have occurred subsequently.

The medial cuneiform study of both OH8 and Stw573 provides findings to suggest
that this model may be expanded further as they provide a more detailed insight into
the medial column. It would appear that within the column, the more distal
structures attain a human-like form before those more proximally sited. Thus,a
highly complex model of development may be proposed in which first the lateral
column achieves a human-like state, followed by the distal component of the medial
column, finally followed by the proximal component.

The human-like nature of the medial cuneiform of both OH8 and Stw573 does not
provide evidence for the presence of a divergent first ray;quite the opposite in fact.

The human-like nature of this bone in the two fossils would suggest that the first ray and digit were likely to be at least broadly human-like.In Kidd et al (1996) we
speculated that OH8 may have possessed a divergent first ray and opposing first digit
but in view of the medial cuneiform findings for both OH8 and Stw573,it may be
that this speculative suggestion needs rethinking. Day and Wood (1968) in their
analysis of the OH8 talus, make the pertinent comment that the OH8 talar neck
angle is wide, and in isolation would indicate a divergent hallux. They continue to
state that ‘yyequally true that the hallux is not divergent in this form compensatory adjustments have been made more distally’(p. 454).The new evidence
presented in the form of the medial cuneiform analyses provides tentative evidence
for this notion, and also provides us with further information upon which to build an
evolutionary model.

Some criticism of this line of thinking may be levelled upon the basis of the
supposed ages of the two fossil assemblages and their difference.Isotope dating
suggests that OH8 is of the order of 1.7Ma (Day & Wood 1968), while the Stw573
may be as old as 3.5 Ma.However, the accuracy of the stratigraphy of Sterkfontein
has been questioned, most recently by Berger et al (2002)who suggest an upper age
of no more than 3 Ma, and possibly as young as 1.5 Ma.It is quite possible,therefore, that they are in fact contemporaneous.

It is worth pausing for thought at some further implications of what we have
described here. First, in the foot generally we can visualise a lateral column (that
leads to the fourth and fifth digits) and a medial column (that leads to the hallux and the second and third digits).Though described as lateral and medial columns in
terms of adult functional anatomy, these components are embryologically caudal
and cranial, respectively.Embryologically, therefore, these are elements produced by
a caudo-cranial process in the terminal portion of the limb (cheiridium) and this
process is controlled by the sonic hedgehog series of genetic factors (Larson 1997). In the OH8 assemblage there exists a human-like lateral (caudal) column and an apelike medial (cranial) column.It is thus possible that this difference from an ape-like situation to a human-like situation is brought about through modifications of the sonic hedgehog system.

In a similar way, second, we can visualise differences leading from posterior
elements of the foot (calcanea, tali) through cuneiforms and cuboid, to the anterior
foot elements, metatarsals (digits being absent in these fossils). These components
are embryologically proximal to distal, respectively and are produced by a proximodistal process that is controlled by the Hox gene system (Larson 1997).In the Stw573 assemblage there exist ape-like proximal components, and human-like distal
components in the medial column—likewise a human-to-ape difference. Again,
therefore, it is possible that these differences are brought about through modifications of the Hox gene system.

Finally, we can visualise anatomical arrangements that are dorsal and plantar in the foot (for example not only the longitudinal arches, but also the related transverse arches).These elements are embryologically produced by a dorso-ventral gradient within the limb bud that is effected by the Wnt system of factors (Larson 1997).In the OH8 assemblage there exists an ape-to-human dorso-ventral difference along the lateral column.It is thus possible that this is brought about through modifications of the Wnt system.

Thus the adult anatomical differences we describe, though undoubtedly adaptive in terms of foot function, may also be understood as having been brought about by appropriate changes of genetic developmental factors, Hox, sonic hedgehog and Wnt
genes/growth factors and of course their upstream and downstream qualifiers. That
is, morphometric examination that reveals obvious features of functionally adaptive
significance also reveals factors that may relate to their developmental expression. In other words, the adult comparisons achieved by morphometrics show not only the
expected direct functional connotations, but also unexpected ‘‘ghosts’’ of their
developmental pasts. Though unexpected, this is not really surprising. It is not only
entirely logical to expect adult morphological comparisons to mirror underlying
developmental bases but also that they may indicate how, in developmental terms,
such evolutionary adaptations have been achieved.

If this were the only example where developmental factors had been revealed
through morphometric analyses it might not be overly convincing. However, similar
findings have been made in studies of overall body proportions and dental
dimensions (e.g. Oxnard 1992, 2000). In each of these cases, too, the morphometric
groupings of the variables defining differences among adult forms seem to be related
to underlying developmental phenomena. For body proportions these included
proximo-distal and, separately, caudo-cranial arrays of variables (in that study
dorso-ventral variables were not examined). For the dental apparatus, these included
groups of variables mirroring the different populations of neural crest cells from
which the different components of the mandible arise.

Integrated analyses can be useful summaries of a ‘‘total morphological pattern’’,
advocated so long ago by the late Professor Sir Wilfred Le Gros Clark. Thus, a firm
indication of morphology may be gained not based upon bones as if they were
independent structures, but as if they were parts of functional groups such as the
medial column. The integrated analysis of the OH8 talus, navicular and medial
cuneiform suggest a unique overall morphology, neither decidedly ape-like nor
human-like. The same cannot be said for Stw573, in which the fossil assemblage enjoys
a decidedly human-like position. This is confirmed by inspection of the Mahanalobis
distance matrices. Thus, upon the basis of analyses of independent bones, there is a
case for suggesting that in fact the two feet, at least as judged by those parts of the medial column available, are remarkably similar. However, when seen from the
viewpoint of total morphological pattern, it is clear that there are fundamental
differences, the Stw573 assemblage being considerably ‘‘more human-like’’.

We wish to acknowledge the contribution and advice given by Professor Paul
O’Higgins, Hull-York Medical School, and for his comments on the manuscript. We
also wish to acknowledge the comments of two reviewers, Professor Robert
Eckhardt and Professor Carstens Niemitz.

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Source: Reproduced with the kind permission of Dr.Robert Kidd.

Tables unable to be re-produced in this blog.

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Hominin first metatarsals (SKX 5017 and SK 1813)
from Swartkrans: A morphometric analysis

B. Zipfela, R. Kidd.

A Bernard Price Institute for Palaeontological Research, University of the Witwatersrand,
PO Wits, 2050 Wits, South Africa
bSchool of Biomedical and Health Sciences, University of Western Sydney, Cambelltown,
NSW 2560, Australia
Received 29 June 2005; accepted 1 January 2006


Two hominin metatarsals from Swartkrans, SKX 5017 and SK 1813, have been reported by
Susman and Brain [1988. New first metatarsal (SKX 5017) from Swartkrans and the gait of
Paranthropus robustus. Am. J. Phys. Anthropol. 79, 451–454] and Susman and de Ruiter
[2004. New hominin first metatarsal (SK 1813) from Swartkrans. J. Hum. Evol. 47, 171–181].
They found these bones to have both primitive and derived traits indicating that, while being
bipedal, these hominines had a unique toe-off mechanism. We have undertaken additional
multivariate morphometric analyses, comparing the fossils to the first metatarsals of modern
humans and extant apes. The largest proportion of discrimination lies in the different
locomotor functions: apes on the one hand and the humans and fossils on the other. While the
fossils have the closest affinity to humans, they have a unique biomechanical pattern
suggesting a more facultative form of bipedalism. The implications of this are, while
morphometric analyses do not necessarily directly capture the described primitive and derived
traits, the associated functional pattern is held within the broader morphology of the bone.
r 2006 Elsevier GmbH. All rights reserved.


Pedal elements within the fossil record are extremely rare, in particular the
forefoot elements consisting of the metatarsals and phalanges. The metatarsus
contains functional features that clearly discriminate among the extant Hominoidea
(e.g. Day and Napier, 1964; Archibald et al., 1972; Susman et al., 1984; Aiello and
Dean, 1990), and compared to extinct hominins, contributed to an understanding of
the evolution of the human foot (Keith, 1929; Morton, 1935; Lewis, 1981; Susman,
1983). Within the fossil record there is as yet no complete pre-human metatarsus
available comprising all five bones. The most complete hominin foot is that from
East Africa, the OH8 foot from Olduvai, of which the metatarsal heads are missing
from all five bones. In contrast, the Hadar fossils A.L. 333-115 (c. 3.0–3.4Ma)
consist of only the metatarsal heads (Susman et al., 1984). The Stw573 fossil
assemblage from Sterkfontein, South Africa (possibly as old as 3.5 Ma), initially
reported by Clarke and Tobias (1995) and more recently by Kidd and Oxnard
(2004), contains only a proximal hallucal metatarsal fragment. Stw 562, also from
Sterkfontein, as yet not formally described, is an almost complete first metatarsal
bone (Susman and de Ruiter, 2004).
Susman and Brain (1988) described an isolated undistorted left hallucal metatarsal
(SKX 5017) recovered from the ‘‘lower bank’’ of Swartkrans Member 1. Member 1 is
estimated to be approximately 1.5–1.8Ma and has yielded more than 130 hominin
individuals. Of these, more than 95% are attributed to Paranthropus (Brain, 1981)
and SKX 5017 to Paranthropus robustus (Susman and Brain, 1988). SKX 5017 is
unique as it represents the only documented undamaged hominin first metatarsal
from the Plio-Pleistocene range. This specimen is from the same time range as the
OH8 hominin, roughly 1.8Ma (Day and Wood, 1968) and the possibility of it being
contemporaneous with the Stw573 hominin cannot be ruled out should the
revised estimated dates of the Sterkfontein formation by Berger et al. (2002) be
proven to be correct.

Recently, Susman and de Ruiter (2004) reported on another Swartkrans
metatarsal, that of the SK 1813 right hallucal metatarsal. The specimen was
recovered from samples labeled ‘‘channel fill’’. The channel fill itself consists of
rubble discarded by miners and thrown into backfill holes during limestone
operations (Brain, 2004a). This later became known as Member 2 (Butzer, 1976;
Brain, 2004b), yet the context of the fossil is not entirely clear as the channel fill
represents a highly disturbed surface (Susman and de Ruiter, 2004). The specimen
SK 1813 is complete although the shaft was broken just beyond the mid-point during
removal from the breccia and a portion of bone was dislodged from the medial
aspect of the proximal articular surface.

Susman and Brain (1988) based their study of SKX 5017 on observations,
measurements, and radiography. The non-metrical observations revealed that
the base, shaft and head suggested human-like foot posture and human-like
dorsiflexion of the first metatarsophalangeal joint, while the mediolateral diameters
of the distal articular surface indicates that the human-like toe-off mechanism was
absent in Paranthropus. On the lateral margin of the base, dorsal to the peroneal
tubercle, there is a small area that served as a contact point for the second

This contact point is similar to that found in humans originally described
by Singh (1960) as a ‘‘variable articular facet’’ and later classified by Romash et al.
(1990) as a facet that is either not present, transitional or well developed. This may
be a feature of a non-opposable hallux in humans (Day and Napier, 1964) and
suggests a smaller angle between the first and second metatarsals (Fritz and
Prieskorn, 1995).

Susman and de Ruiter (2004) in their report on SK 1813 found that it bears
a strong morphological resemblance to SKX 5017 and in addition to the
descriptive morphology, they carried out a discriminant functions analysis
including SK 1813, SKX 5017, Stw 562, samples of chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas
and modern humans. The multivariate results suggest an affinity of the Swartkrans
specimens to humans. Susman and de Ruiter (2004) concluded that while
bipedal, these early hominins possessed a unique toe-off mechanism as a result
of the mosaic of primitive and derived traits. Whilst we are in agreement
with the evaluations of the Swartkrans metatarsals and specimens of this nature
are extremely rare, it was considered appropriate to obtain additional evidence
utilizing alternative methods. The development of obligate bipedalism is now
generally considered to be one of the most significant adaptations to occur within the
hominin lineage. To this end, therefore, a multivariate study utilizing principal
components and canonical variates analyses (CVAs) of the Swartkrans first
metatarsals were carried out.

Materials and methods


The materials used in the current study consist of the first metatarsals from SKX
5017 and SK 1813. These were made available courtesy of the Transvaal Museum,
South Africa. Osteometric data sets were collected by one of the authors (RSK) of
samples from four extant species, namely modern human (Homo sapiens),
chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes), gorilla (Gorilla gorilla), and orang-utan (Pongo
pygmaeus). Females and males of each species were treated as groups in their own
right and with the exception of the orang-utans, were more or less equally
represented. The human sample comprised 18 males and 18 females, the chimpanzee
and gorilla samples consisted of 20 males and 20 females from each group and the
orang-utans consisted of 11 males and 16 females. The human specimens were
Victorian British (The Spitalfields Collection), made available courtesy of the British
Museum of Natural History. The chimpanzee and gorilla samples by the Powell-
Cotton Museum, England, and the orang-utan sample by the Smithsonian
Institution, Washington DC. The specimens used in this study were restricted to
adults as these have completely fused epiphyses. Where possible, dimensions were
collected from the left-hand side, previous studies demonstrating no significant
difference in variation between sides (Steudal, 1984; Kidd, 1995).


All dimensions have been chosen so as to reflect the broad morphology of
the bone. For the purpose of this study, a minimum number of variables thought
to be representative of the general size and shape of the bones were utilized and
are defined below.
Measurements obtained from the first metatarsal were defined in relation to the
long dimension of the base, considered to be coincident with the sagittal plane and
the transverse plane to be at right angles to this. The measured dimensions were
based on those defined by Martin and Saller (1957).
Using these defined planes, the following linear variables are defined:
(1) The functional length is measured from the posterior articular surface to the
extreme of the anterior articular surface.
(2) The height of the base is the maximum height measured from the most superior
point on the base to the most inferior point on the base in the assumed sagittal
(3) The breadth of the base is measured at right angles to (2) above.
(4) The height of the head is the maximum height measured from the most superior
point on the distal articular surface to the most inferior point of the distal
articular surface.
(5) The breadth of the head is the maximum bone span measured at right angles to (4)
(6) The height of the shaft is measured at the mid-shaft in the sagittal plane.
(7) The breadth of the shaft is measured at right angles to (6) above.
All dimensions were obtained using standard digital sliding calipers. All readings
were taken in millimeters and recorded to 0.01mm with the bone held and orientated
by hand. While this level of accuracy is undoubtedly spurious, the number was
recorded without rounding in order to avoid the pitfall of false recording of data. All
seven dimensions were utilized as these could be measured on both SKX 5017 and
SK 1813 even though the latter bone was damaged.
Although this was a multivariate study, an initial univariate analysis was
undertaken. There are several reasons for this. First, it is useful in identifying
erroneously recorded data. Second, it is a useful method for obtaining a broad
comparison of the size and variance of each variable in different groups. Third, it is
essential in the interpretation of subsequent multivariate analyses.
The standard univariate descriptors of mean, standard deviation and coefficient of
variation were examined. Subsequently, Student ‘‘t’’ tests were undertaken to
investigate significance of differences of means within groups. Plots of means against
their standard deviations revealed a clear positive regression; as a consequence, all
data were subsequently transformed to their natural logarithms. The multivariate
objective of the study was to establish patterns of morphological discrimination
within and between the groups, initially using principal components analysis (PCA)
(Blackith and Reyment, 1971; Bryant and Yarnold, 2001) and subsequently using
CVA (Reyment et al., 1984; Albrecht, 1980, 1992). Computations for both analyses
were undertaken using PC SASs 8.2 (2003).
PCA does not make any a priori patterns of inter-relationship such as sex
differences or the identification of a particular group or groups. It thus shows the
distribution shape of the pooled group of organisms and can therefore be used as a
cluster finding tool including both fossils within the overall structure. In the current
study, the PCA served primarily as an exploratory exercise to validate the data for
subsequent CVA and to examine the relationship of the fossils to each other as well
as to the extant species. The PCA produces two standard outputs: eigenvalues
(indicating the proportion of the total information contained within each principal
component) and eigenvectors.
CVA defines the maximum discrimination between groups, relative to the
variation within the group (Reyment et al., 1984) and unlike PCA, requires
an a priori definition of the groups. CVA produces four standard outputs:
group means for each group on each canonical variate, eigenvalues of each canonical
variate (indicating the proportion of discrimination within the variate), canonical
coefficients, and Mahalanobis D2 distance matrix. In the CVA used in this
study, each fossil was entered directly as part of the overall canonical structure
as a sample size of unity, rather than by interpolation into the matrix of
extant species. The canonical component of this study was undertaken twice,
once for each fossil. The reason for this is that a weighted analysis was used. While
there is much debate with regards to the relative merits of weighted and unweighted
analyses (e.g. Albrecht, 1980, 1992), they do serve to maximize the amount of
discrimination held within early variates. However, the inclusion of both fossils (i.e.
two samples of size unity) is likely to produce distortion; the analysis was thus
undertaken twice.


Univariate analysis

As univariate values primarily reflect size, it is difficult to interpret these results as
minor shape differences tend to be swamped. All fossil values were ape-like but did
not consistently fall within the range of any particular species. All the values of SK
1813, with the exception of the breadth of the mid-shaft were smaller than SKX
5017. The length and proximal height and breadth values of both fossils fall within
or approach the mean values of the chimpanzees and orang-utans. The head
heights of the fossils fall within the range of the chimpanzee males and gorilla
females. The shaft height of SKX 5017 is comparable to both humans and gorillas,
whilst that of SK 1813 lies between the chimpanzees and gorillas. As there is great
variation within each dimension of each species group, and the fossils are isolated
without any indication of their context within their own taxa, multivariate analysis is


Principal components analysis

The majority of the variation lies within the first two principal components,
together accounting for just over 91% of the total variation. A plot of the first two
components, giving the position of each individual, is given in Fig. 1. The
eigenvectors from the first principal component are all of positive sign and would
tend to indicate that most of the variance contained within this principal component
is associated with size and size-related shape (Table 1). Both the fossils lie centrally
on the first component with SK 1813 lying within the spread of chimpanzees and
orang-utans. SKX 5017 lies more positively, at the margin of the orang-utans, within
the spread of the humans and African apes. On the second principal component,
containing 4.37% of the total variation, the eigenvectors are of both positive
and negative sign indicating a large component of size-independent shape content
(Table 1). On this component both fossils lie negatively to all the apes within the
negative range of the humans and quite close to the orang-utans, occupying
approximately the same space (0.2) on this axis.

Canonical variates analysis

In the analysis of each fossil together with the extant species, the majority of the
discrimination lies within the first two variates, together accounting for at least 92%
of the total discrimination. Subsequent variates contain considerably less variation
and are almost identical for the analysis of both fossils. The third variate contains
between 5.67% and 6.14% of the total discrimination and the fourth variate just
over 1%. The first two variates thus account for most of the discrimination.

On the first canonical variate, the fossil lies well within the spread of the African apes
and humans. The fossil lies with the chimpanzees on the one hand and humans and
gorillas on the other; more specifically between the chimpanzee males and gorilla
females (Fig. 2). The two main dimensions contributing to this discrimination are the
height of the head and breadth of the mid-shaft.

On the second canonical variate there is a clear discrimination between the apes,
humans and the isolated fossil. The fossil lies almost 3 SDU positively from the
female human centroid which lies about halfway between the apes and fossil (Fig. 2).
The main dimensions responsible for this discrimination are the functional length,
height of the head, mid-shaft height and breadth dimensions. The fossil is thus of
distinct form but has the greatest affinity with the human females. This is also borne
out by the Mahalanobis’s distance (Table 2).

On the third canonical variate, the fossil lies broadly between the chimpanzees on
the one hand and the gorillas, humans and orang-utans on the other (Fig. 3). More
specifically, the fossil lies closest to chimpanzee males, gorilla females and human
males. The main dimensions responsible for this discrimination are the height and
breadth of the base, height and breadth of the head and mid-shaft breadth.
SK 1813
On the first canonical variate, the extant species plot in an almost identical manner
to that found above. Along the first variate, the fossil lies a little more negatively
than SKX 5017 (Fig. 4). The orang-utans are clearly separated from the African
apes, humans and the fossil.
On the second canonical variate the fossil lies in essentially the identical position as
that of SKX 5017. The fossil is thus distinct but has the greatest affinity with the human
females (Fig. 4). This is also borne out by the Mahalanobis’s distances contained in
Table 2. However, the Mahalonobis’s distance from SK 1813 to the human females
(as well as the other groups) is more than twice as great as that from SKX 5017.
On the third canonical variate, the fossil lies negatively to all the apes and humans,
approximately 2 SDU from the chimpanzees which lie broadly between the gorillas
and humans on the one hand and the fossil on the other (Fig. 5). SK 1813 occupies a
distinctly unique position on this axis whereas SKX 5017 falls within the overall
spreads of the extant species (Fig. 3). Dimensions contributing to the discrimination
on all three variates are the same as for SKX 5017.


The extant species

On visual comparison of the metatarsal bones of the different Hominoidea, they
appear surprisingly similar apart from the obvious difference of size. They have in
common the broad function of locomotion that involves weight-bearing to a greater
or lesser extent. However, on closer inspection, large-scale differences are obvious.
Firstly, there is variation between the groups, and secondly, variation within each
group. The former reflects largely a functional affinity, being in the broadest sense
one of bipedalism, terrestrial quadrupedalism or arboreal climbing and suspension.
The latter is predominantly as a result of sexual dimorphism that differs between the
species reflecting mating systems and social behaviors (Larsen, 2003). With this in
mind, the exact nature of variation, particularly between the groups may be

As most of the discrimination lies on the first canonical variate, it is possible, to a
large extent, to give a biologically coherent explanation for most of the loaded
coefficients on this axis. However, this is not necessarily true for the subsequent
variates containing successively smaller proportions of discrimination. It is therefore
important to consider the plots of the first against the later variates. Even a brief
scrutiny of plots of the first against later variates reveals that important biological
discrimination is held jointly between variates. Thus the loaded coefficients,
particularly in those subsequent to the first variate, are difficult to interpret
biologically and therefore suggested explanations for these are to some extent

Variate one contains largely size-related discrimination. However, the orang-utans
separate (lying negatively) to such an extent on this axis to suggest some non-sizerelated
variation, discriminating between the orang-utans on the one hand, and the
African apes and humans on the other. On variate two, this discrimination shifts, in
that the humans lie more positively to the apes. Considering the variates together,
two lines of discrimination emerge (Figs. 2 and 4). One line on which the apes lie and
another, the humans, together suggesting a discrimination of locomotor function.
Within the apes, there is a suggestion of increased terrestiality on an oblique line
from the orang-utans lying most negatively, to the gorillas lying most positively. The
humans lie most positively on both variates suggesting a unique discrimination based
on habitual bipedality (Figs. 2 and 4). On variate one, highly weighted coefficients
are associated with the height of the head and breadth of the mid-shaft dimensions.
This is probably attributable to the flatter superior aspect of the ape metatarsal head
and comparatively greater robusticity of the human metatarsal shaft.

On variate two, suggesting largely a form-related discrimination, the functional
length, height of the head, and height and breadth of the shaft contribute most to the
discrimination. These dimensions when taken together contribute largely to the
overall shape of the bone. The particularly heavily weighted maximum length is
obviously very different between the groups, particularly in the orang-utans. The
relative shortness of the bone in this species is the most obvious feature
differentiating the orang-utan foot from that of the African apes and humans. This
is also the functional component that is best adapted to an arboreal lifestyle,
allowing for the comparatively greatest mobility and prehensile capability.
Examining the positions of the different groups with variate three plotted against
variate one, the African apes and humans tend to lie comparatively ‘‘close’’ together
on both axes on a line that clearly separates them from orang-utans. Thus, there is a
clear discrimination based upon geography; this discrimination may be considered to
represent genetic discrimination between Africa and Asia, between the subfamily of
Homininae (gorillas, chimpanzees and humans) and Ponginae (orang-utans) (Figs. 3
and 5).

Inclusion of the fossil specimens

The first metatarsal in the Hominoidea represents an essential functional
component of the forefoot and plays a major role in the transmission of body
weight during locomotion, be it terrestrial quadrupedal, arboreal or bipedal. Morton
(1924, 1926, 1927, 1928, 1935) and Hicks (1954) demonstrated the importance of the
human first metatarsal segment in the maintenance of the medial longitudinal arch
and facilitating the plantigrade foot posture from mid-stance to toe-off. The
Swartkrans hominin metatarsals offer a unique opportunity to learn more about
early hominin locomotor function in the forefoot as these elements in the fossil
record are extremely rare. However, as these specimens are isolated, without any
context to the remainder of the foot, one should enter a caveat in interpreting these
findings. For example, the relationship of the first metatarsal to the other four in
terms of relative robusticity which in turn reflects different locomotor requirements
(Archibald et al., 1972) cannot be determined. The hindtarsus of the OH8 and
Stw573 fossil assemblages, where a number of bones are present, display mixed
functional affinities that are both ape (primitive) and human (derived) (Kidd and
Oxnard, 2004). Harcourt-Smith and Aiello (2004) have suggested that there may
have been greater diversity in human bipedalism in the earlier phases of our
evolutionary past than previously suspected.

On the plots of variate one against variate two, both the SKX 5017 and SK 1813
first metatarsals do not clearly lie on any of the previously identified two lines of
discrimination, being those of variable ape locomotion on the one hand and the
habitually bipedal humans on the other. As the plots of the apes and humans on
their own suggest discrimination in terms of locomotion, the positions of the fossils
suggest a unique morphology and associated function. The isolated fossils do
however lie closest to the human centroids, perhaps creating a third line of
discrimination, being that of bipedalism, being obligate in humans and facultative to
some extent in the extinct hominins (Figs. 2 and 4). This is in agreement with the
descriptive morphology of these specimens by Susman and Brain (1988) and Susman
and de Ruiter (2004), suggesting that these hominins were bipedal, but not to the
extent or exact manner of modern humans. Examination of the first metatarsal
group means along canonical variates one and two and the Mahalonobis’s distances
confirms the unique nature of the fossil morphology.

On the plots of variate one against variate two, the fossils clearly lie on the line of
describing African apes and humans, discriminating them from the orang-utans
(Figs. 3 and 5). This is concordant with the previously suggested genetic
discrimination between the Homininae, from Africa and the Ponginae from Asia.
However, on variate three, SK 1813 indicates a somewhat greater discrimination
from humans than does SKX 5017. In fact on this axis, the SK 1813 metatarsal lies
furthest from the gorilla males (reflected by the Mahalonobis’s distance in Table 2)
and human females, suggesting that the overall larger Mahalonobis distance values
are as a result of discrimination on this variate. It is also evident that there is a
greater affinity with the chimpanzee morphology on this axis. This brings to mind
some thoughts on the exact nature of the discrimination between the two obviously
similar fossils. The Swartkrans fossils both have similar derived and primitive
features. Susman and de Ruiter (2004) identified the most obvious derived features as
being the distal articular surface extending onto the dorsum of the head, a relatively
well developed dorsoplantar basal diameter associated with a more plantigrade foot
posture from mid-stance to toe-off and a relatively human-like robusticity. Primitive
features on the fossils include a reduced mediolateral dimension of the superior distal
articular surface associated with close-packing of the joint in plantarflexion rather
than dorsiflexion and increased axial torsion of the metatarsal head reflecting an
abducted ape-like position of the hallux during flexion of the metatarsophalangeal
joint. The discrimination found jointly on the axes of variates one and two does not
discriminate between the two fossils and suggests very similar function, that of
bipedalism, though different from that of humans. The shaft of SKX 5017 appears to
be marginally more robust in the sagittal plane than SK 1813. The head of the
former fossil is more ‘‘bulbous’’ and is relatively broader in the mediolateral
dimension in relation to the shaft. This also gives the impression that the shaft of SK
1813 is relatively broader in relation to the distal and proximal portions of the bone.
These subtle differences are of no obvious functional significance and are common
variations within modern humans (Zipfel et al., 2003; Zipfel, 2004). The inclusion of
the fossils, together with the known information regarding functional and structural
correlates of the first metatarsal in the extant species, lends plausibility to the
suggested interpretation of these multivariate analyses. We therefore strongly
support the viewpoint of Susman and de Ruiter (2004) that both primitive and
derived characters should be considered in the study of form and function and not
only functionally relevant characters. Though the dimensions utilized in this
multivariate morphometric study were not designed to capture this, being chosen for
their representation of the broader morphology, it does follow logically that
information of this sort will be captured as a result of intercorrelation between
variables. This does affirm the sometimes subtle relationship between non-metrical
traits and the broader morphology of the bone.


Our grateful thanks go to Professor Francis Thackeray and Stephany Potze of the
Transvaal Museum, Northern Flagship Institution, for allowing us access to the
fossil material. We also wish to acknowledge the comments of two reviewers,
Professor Colin Groves and an anonymous reviewer.

Reproduced with compliments of Dr.Robert Kidd.

Apologies unable to reproduce tables.