Potential adaptations for bipedalism in the thoracic and lumbar vertebrae of Homo sapiens: A 3D comparative analysis.
Abstract A number of putative adaptations for bipedalism have been identified in the hominin spine. However, it is possible that some have been overlooked because only a few studies have used 3D and these studies have focused on cervical vertebrae. With this in mind, we used geometric morphometric techniques to compare the 3D shapes of three thoracic and two lumbar vertebrae of Homo sapiens, Pan troglodytes, Gorilla gorilla, and Pongo pygmaeus. The study had two goals. One was to confirm the existence of traits previously reported to distinguish the thoracic and lumbar vertebrae of H. sapiens from those of the great apes. The other was to, if possible, identify hitherto undescribed traits that differentiate H. sapiens thoracic and lumbar vertebrae from those of the great apes. Both goals were accomplished. Our analyses not only substantiated a number of traits that have previously been discussed in the literature but also identified four traits that have not been described before: (1) dorsoventrally shorter pedicles in the upper thoracic vertebrae; (2) dorsoventrally longer laminae in all five of the vertebrae examined; (3) longer transverse processes in the upper thoracic vertebrae; and (4) craniocaudally ‘pinched’ spinous process tips in all of the vertebrae examined. A review of the biomechanical literature suggests that most of the traits highlighted in our analyses can be plausibly linked to bipedalism, including three of the four new ones. As such, the present study not only sheds further light on the differences between the spines of H. sapiens and great apes but also enhances our understanding of how the shift to bipedalism affected the hominin vertebral column.