The deep trabecular structure of first metacarpals in extant hominids

Christopher J Dunmore, Sebastian Bachmann, Alexander Synek, Dieter H Pahr, Matthew M Skinner, Tracy L Kivell

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


OBJECTIVES: Recent studies have associated subarticular trabecular bone distribution in the extant hominid first metacarpal (Mc1) with observed thumb use, to infer fossil hominin thumb use. Here, we analyze the entire Mc1 to test for interspecific differences in: (1) the absolute volume of trabecular volume fraction, (2) the distribution of the deeper trabecular network, and (3) the distribution of trabeculae in the medullary cavity, especially beneath the Mc1 disto-radial flange.

MATERIALS AND METHODS: Trabecular bone was imaged using micro-computed tomography in a sample of Homo sapiens (n = 11), Pan paniscus (n = 10), Pan troglodytes (n = 11), Gorilla gorilla (n = 10) and Pongo sp., (n = 7). Using Canonical Holistic Morphometric Analysis (cHMA), we tested for interspecific differences in the trabecular bone volume fraction (BV/TV) and its relative distribution (rBV/TV) throughout the Mc1, including within the head, medullary cavity, and base.

RESULTS: P. paniscus had the highest, and H. sapiens the lowest, BV/TV relative to other species. rBV/TV distribution statistically distinguished the radial concentrations and lack of medullary trabecular bone in the H. sapiens Mc1 from all other hominids. H. sapiens and, to a lesser extent, G. gorilla also had a significantly higher trabecular volume beneath the disto-radial flange relative to other hominids.

DISCUSSION: These results are consistent with differences in observed thumb use in these species and may also reflect systemic differences in bone volume fraction. The trabecular bone extension into the medullary cavity and concentrations beneath the disto-radial flange may represent crucial biomechanical signals that will aid in the inference of fossil hominin thumb use.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere24695
JournalAmerican journal of biological anthropology
Issue number3
Early online date07 Feb 2023
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2024


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