Evidence for habitual climbing in a Pleistocene hominin in South Africa

Leoni Georgiou, Christopher J Dunmore, Ameline Bardo, Laura T Buck, Jean-Jacques Hublin, Dieter H Pahr, Dominic Stratford, Alexander Synek, Tracy L Kivell, Matthew M Skinner

Research output: Journal article (peer-reviewed)Journal article

27 Citations (Scopus)


Bipedalism is a defining trait of the hominin lineage, associated with a transition from a more arboreal to a more terrestrial environment. While there is debate about when modern human-like bipedalism first appeared in hominins, all known South African hominins show morphological adaptations to bipedalism, suggesting that this was their predominant mode of locomotion. Here we present evidence that hominins preserved in the Sterkfontein Caves practiced two different locomotor repertoires. The trabecular structure of a proximal femur (StW 522) attributed to Australopithecus africanus exhibits a modern human-like bipedal locomotor pattern, while that of a geologically younger specimen (StW 311) attributed to either Homo sp. or Paranthropus robustus exhibits a pattern more similar to nonhuman apes, potentially suggesting regular bouts of both climbing and terrestrial bipedalism. Our results demonstrate distinct morphological differences, linked to behavioral differences between Australopithecus and later hominins in South Africa and contribute to the increasing evidence of locomotor diversity within the hominin clade.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)8416-8423
Number of pages8
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number15
Publication statusPublished - 14 Apr 2020


  • Animals
  • Anthropology
  • Biological Evolution
  • Femur/anatomy & histology
  • Fossils/history
  • History, Ancient
  • Hominidae/anatomy & histology
  • Humans
  • Locomotion
  • South Africa


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