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Lab 2: Hominid Anatomy. Key features to know. Lab Materials. Skeletal Changes In Human Evolution

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lab 2 hominid anatomy

Lab 2: Hominid Anatomy

Key features to know

lab materials
Lab Materials

Skeletal Changes In Human Evolution

The earliest humans evolved in a parallel track with other primates. To understand the anatomical differences from an paleoanthropological perspective, you have to look at the fossils. You also have to understand some basic skeletal anatomy. This discussion section should help you recognize and understand major features and changes as apparent from the skulls. In section, you can handle skull casts of some of the non-human primates and some of the fossil hominids. You'll also have a simple classification exercise based on the skeletal features.

The list of terms below is certainly not a complete list of all the anatomical comparisons, but you should know what they mean and where possible, you should look at each specimen so you have a better understanding.

In class, you’ll look at parts 1-2 of the recent video series Ape Man which clearly shows the relationships and development of human evolution and anatomy. A book of the same title is also available.

The terms listed below will all be explained in the class demonstrations and hands-on activities. Try to note what each term means and how the characteristics changed as our species evolved.

terms to know

Bipedal locomotionUpright postureStrideGreat toe

The Hand

BrachiationOpposable thumbPrecision GripPower Grip

The Skull

For an excellent web presentation and tutorial on the human (H.s.s.) skull, visit the Skull Module from the Department of Anthropology at CSU-Chico (

Crests (saggital, occipital)Foreman magnumDental Arcade/Arch

Y-5 Cusp pattern

Supraorbital torusZygomatic archMandibleVaulted foreheadCranial capacityBinocular visionDiastema

Terms to know

Try to understand the relationship between these elements in terms of the trends for evolutionary change.


Erect posture

Shape of spinal column

Rare, but possible, true or pseudo human tails

skeletal implications of bipedalism
Skeletal implications of bipedalism

Location of foramen magnum


Bipedal Locomotion

Laetoli Footprints

Chimp and human foot


Femurs of upright walkers and ape

Leg of modern humanThis modern Homo sapiens bone shows the structure of the femur of an upright walker or bipedal animal. The ball joint, the part that joins the pelvis, sits directly over the outside of the knee. The angle subtended by the femur at the knee in bipedal walkers is greater than that of quadrupedal walkers. This results in the inner bump of the knee joint being longer than the outer bump.

Leg of Australopithecus afarensisThis diagram shows the femur with the same shape and structure as that of modern humans, but it is a little shorter. It subtends the same angle at the knee as that of a modern human and the inner bump of the knee joint is larger than the outer one. This shows that this hominin was also a bipedal walker.

Leg of apeQuadrupedal animals like apes, have femurs in which the ball joint, the part that joins the pelvis, sits directly over the inside of the knee. The angle subtended by the femur at the knee in quadrupedal walkers is less than that of bipedal walkers.

skeletal implications of bipedalism10
Skeletal implications of bipedalism

Chimp vs. A. afarensis

Knock-kneed walk


Human Bipedalism—Balanced on the Edge of Disaster

Eadweard Muybridge  (1830-1904) did early studies of human locomotion


“Muzzle” angles (prognathism) of ape and modern human


Pongid Prognathism.

(Line of greatest muscle force is shown in red.)

Understanding Physical Anthropology and Archaeology, 8th ed., p. 245


Satittal crests and temporal muscle orientations.

Hominid compared to pongid.

(Line of greatest muscle force is shown in red.)

Understanding Physical Anthropology and Archaeology, 8th ed., p. 245


Human and Ape Brains

Humankind Emerging, 7th ed., p. 389

the brains develop in
The brains develop in . . .
  • size
  • complexity
  • the ratio of brain weight to overall body weight

Cranial Capacity

Understanding Physical Anthropology and Archaeology, 8th ed., p. 234

cranial capacity vaulted forehead
Cranial Capacity & Vaulted Forehead

Homo erectus

Australopithecus afarensis

Homo (sapiens?) neandthalensis

Homo sapiens sapiens


Monkey & Ape Canines

Apes (and monkeys) still possess conical, dagger-like canines which project well beyond the surface of the opposite teeth.

The gap is a diastema.


Teeth of a male patas monkey.

Understanding Physical Anthropology and Archaeology, 8th ed., p. 231


Dental formulae

Understanding Physical Anthropology and Archaeology, 8th ed., p. 125

changes in dental arcade
Changes in dental arcade

Proconsul heseloni 19 - 17 mya

Modern Chimp

Australopithecus africanus,2.8 - 2.3 mya

Homo erectus 500,000 - 300,000 y

Modern homo sapiens 100,000 ya to now


Mandible and chewing

Muscle attachments


Modern human cranium.

Understanding Physical Anthropology and Archaeology, 8th ed., p. 510


For a nearly complete look at skulls, click on the image above for the Australian National Museum’s web site.

adding to the confusion sexual dimporhism
Adding to the confusion:Sexual Dimporhism

How much do we see in the fossil record?


Be sure to look at Becoming Human, the Institute for Human Origins broadband documentary and web site.