Form and function in the hominoid tarsal skeleton
This thesis explores form variation in the adult tarsal skeleton of extant and fossil hominoids. Three dimensional coordinate data were obtained from five bones of the foot: the calcaneus, talus, cuboid, navicular and medial cuneiform. The comparative sample was made up of Homo sapiens, Pan troglodytes troglodytes, Pan paniscus, Gorilla gorilla gorilla and Pongo pygmaeus. The fossil sample consisted of tarsal remains assigned to a number of Late Pliocene taxa: Australopithecus afarensis, Australopithecus africanus, Paranthropus robustus and Homo habilis. Statistical shape analysis was conducted using geometric morphometric techniques. The first section of analysis explores sexual dimorphism in the extant hominoid foot. It is found that there is no shape dimorphism in the forefoot, and a marginal amount in the hindfoot of Gorilla and Pongo only. Such differences are likely to be linked to high degrees of body mass dimorphism in those taxa. The section concludes that shape dimorphism is unlikely to be an important factor in explaining differences between fossil hominin pedal remains. The second section explores the inter-specific relationship between the tarsals of the extant hominoids. It is found that shape differences between taxa closely mirror those differences already described in the literature. However, it is found that the phenetic relationship between the taxa varies from bone to bone, and, furthermore, does not match the consensus molecular phylogeny. The section concludes that some tarsals are more specialised and remodelled than others, and thus great caution should be taken when considering isolated fossil pedal specimens. The third section incorporates the fossil specimens into the study. It is found that the morphology of the A. africanus and H. habilis tarsals are very similar, and fall within extant hominoid intra-specific ranges of variation. However, the morphology of the A. afarensis tarsals are considerably distinct, and show a different overall pattern to those of A. africanus and H. habilis. The section concludes that all taxa were mosaic in their affinities, but were mosaic in different ways. This thesis concludes that it is likely that there were at least two distinct ways in which the tarsals of different hominin taxa had adapted to bipedal locomotion. This finding supports recent new discoveries suggesting a far wider degree of taxonomic diversity in the African fossil hominin record than had previously been thought.