Richmond BG, Aiello LC, Wood BA.
Department of Anthropology, George Washington University, 2110 G St, NW, Washington, DC 20052, USA.

J Hum Evol. 2002 Oct;43(4):529-48.
Erratum in: J Hum Evol. 2003 Mar;44(3):397..

Recent analyses and new fossil discoveries suggest that the evolution of hominin limb length proportions is complex, with evolutionary reversals and a decoupling of proportions within and between limbs. This study takes into account intraspecific variation to test whether or not the limb proportions of four early hominin associated skeletons (AL 288-1, OH 62, BOU-VP-12/1, and KNM-WT 15000) can be considered to be significantly different from one another.

Exact randomization methods were used to compare the differences between pairs of fossil skeletons to the differences observed between all possible pairs of individuals within large samples of Gorilla gorilla, Pan troglodytes, Pongo pygmaeus, and Homo sapiens. Although the difference in humerofemoral proportions between OH 62 and AL 288-1 does not exceed variation in the extant samples, it is rare. When humerofemoral midshaft circumferences are compared, the difference between OH 62 and AL 288-1 is fairly common in extant species.

This, in combination with error associated with the limb lengths estimates, suggests that it may be premature to consider H. (or Australopithecus) habilis as having more apelike limb proportions than those in A. afarensis. The humerofemoral index of BOU-VP-12/1 differs significantly from both OH 62 and AL 288-1, but not from KNM-WT 15000. Published length estimates, if correct, suggest that the relative forearm length of BOU-VP-12/1 is unique among hominins, exceeding those of the African apes and resembling the proportions in Pongo.

Evidence that A. afarensis exhibited a less apelike upper:lower limb design than A. africanus (and possibly H. habilis) suggests that, if A. afarensis is broadly ancestral to A. africanus, the latter did not simply inherit primitive morphology associated with arboreality, but is derived in this regard. The fact that the limb proportions of OH 62 (and possibly KNM-ER 3735) are no more human like than those of AL 288-1 underscores the primitive body design of H. habilis.