Convoluted human evolution: Early spine changes (Introduction)

by David Turell @, Monday, May 22, 2017, 20:43 (306 days ago) @ David Turell
edited by David Turell, Monday, May 22, 2017, 21:05

A very well preserved lower back spine from a young hominid 3.3 million ago shows the changes that allowed upright posture:

"...the human spine also reflects our distinctive mode of walking upright on two feet. For instance, humans have fewer rib-bearing vertebrae - bones of the back - than those of our closest primate relatives. Humans also have more vertebrae in the lower back, which allows us to walk effectively. When and how this pattern evolved has been unknown until now because complete sets of vertebrae are rarely preserved in the fossil record.

"For many years we have known of fragmentary remains of early fossil species that suggest that the shift from rib-bearing, or thoracic, vertebrae to lumbar, or lower back, vertebrae was positioned higher in the spinal column than in living humans. But we have not been able to determine how many vertebrae our early ancestors had," said Carol Ward, a Curator's Distinguished Professor of Pathology and Anatomical Sciences in the University of Missouri School of Medicine, and lead author on the study. "Selam has provided us the first glimpse into how our early ancestors' spines were organized."


"The scans indicated that Selam had the distinctive thoracic-to-lumbar joint transition found in other fossil human relatives, but the specimen is the first to show that, like modern humans, our earliest ancestors had only twelve thoracic vertebrae and twelve pairs of ribs. That is fewer than in most apes.
"This unusual early human configuration may be a key in developing more accurate scenarios concerning the evolution of bipedality and modern human body shape," said Thierra Nalley, an assistant professor of anatomy at Western University of Health Sciences in Pomona, California, also an author on the paper.

"This configuration marks a transition toward the type of spinal column that allows humans to be the efficient, athletic walkers and runners we are today.

"'We are documenting for the first time in the fossil record the emergence of the number of the vertebrae in our history, when the transition happened from the rib-bearing vertebrae to lower back vertebrae, and when we started to extend the waist," Alemseged said. "This structure and its modification through time is one of the key events in the history of human evolution.'"

Comment: Human upright posture is very different than ape posture. They are still on all fours for much of their locomotion and their lower spine and pelvis are very different. The bony spinal changes had to precede the upright posture, and once again the gaps in hominin fossils do not show tiny steps in this development. This specimen is very different from ape spines. Unless many intermediate forms are discovered, we are left with saltations to allow upright posture. Design required.

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