The locomotor anatomy of Australopithecus afarensis

Am J Phys Anthropol. 1983 Mar;60(3):279-317. doi: 10.1002/ajpa.1330600302.


The postcranial skeleton of Australopithecus afarensis from the Hadar Formation, Ethiopia, and the footprints from the Laetoli Beds of northern Tanzania, are analyzed with the goal of determining (1) the extent to which this ancient hominid practiced forms of locomotion other than terrestrial bipedality, and (2) whether or not the terrestrial bipedalism of A. afarensis was notably different from that of modern humans. It is demonstrated that A. afarensis possessed anatomic characteristics that indicate a significant adaptation for movement in the trees. Other structural features point to a mode of terrestrial bipedality that involved less extension at the hip and knee than occurs in modern humans, and only limited transfer of weight onto the medial part of the ball of the foot, but such conclusions remain more tentative than that asserting substantive arboreality. A comparison of the specimens representing smaller individuals, presumably female, to those of larger individuals, presumably male, suggests sexual differences in locomotor behavior linked to marked size dimorphism. The males were probably less arboreal and engaged more frequently in terrestrial bipedalism. In our opinion, A. afarensis from Hadar is very close to what can be called a "missing link." We speculate that earlier representatives of the A. afarensis lineage will present not a combination of arboreal and bipedal traits, but rather the anatomy of a generalized ape.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bone and Bones / anatomy & histology*
  • Fossils*
  • Haplorhini / anatomy & histology*
  • Humans
  • Locomotion*
  • Paleontology*
  • Pan troglodytes / anatomy & histology
  • Species Specificity
  • Tanzania