The Hands of Miocene Hominoids

  • Masato NakatsukasaEmail author
  • Sergio Almécija
  • David R. Begun
Part of the Developments in Primatology: Progress and Prospects book series (DIPR)


Hands of extant hominoids are highly derived compared with those of non-hominoid catarrhines. The evolution of the ape hand started from an appendage very well suited for powerful pollical-assisted grasping that supplied a balancing function in response to the loss of tail as seen in the early Miocene Proconsul (or Ekembo). Nacholapithecus from the early Middle Miocene of Africa had hands that were adapted for a primitive pollical-assisted grasping function, but absolutely large and more powerful. This might be an initial change toward forelimb-dominated positional behaviors while retaining the generally plesiomorphic postcrania. Pierolapithecus from the late Middle Miocene of Europe is clearly derived and may represent an ‘intermediate’ form evolving toward the extant great ape-like suspension/orthogrady in a mosaic way: enhanced ulnar deviation and midcarpal supination, yet lacking complete radial-side loading of the wrist and specializations for a hook-like grip. Late Miocene Eurasian great apes exhibit varying degrees (or modes) of suspension and orthograde adaptations. However, the hand anatomy that invokes such behaviors is not always morphologically identical across these apes, suggesting independent specialization for those behaviors. A reduction of the pollex in relation to the fingers, a trait common in extant apes, is not observed in any of these species. This may suggest that above-branch quadrupedalism/climbing with power grasping was an indispensable locomotor behavior, even in these apes. It is unclear in the fossil record when and where extant ape-like hands evolved.


Late Miocene Ulnar Deviation Proximal Surface Polynomial Curve Fitting Midcarpal Joint 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



We thank the editors for inviting us to contribute to this volume and providing us with thoughtful comments on an early version of the manuscript. We are grateful to the National Museums of Kenya for permission to study original specimens under their care. We thank Ashley Hammond, Jay Kelley, Tracy Kivell, Salvador Moyà-Solà, Lorenzo Rook, and Randy Susman for providing us original fossil photographs. This work is supported by grants from the JSPS Grant-in-Aid (#22255006, 25257408) to M.N., from the Spanish Ministerio de Economía y Competitividad (CGL2014-54373-P) and National Science Foundation (NSF-BCS 1316947) to S.A., from the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (Professional Development Program) to S.A., and from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, the National Geographic Society, and the University of Toronto to D.R.B.


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Authors and Affiliations

  • Masato Nakatsukasa
    • 1
    Email author
  • Sergio Almécija
    • 2
    • 3
    • 4
  • David R. Begun
    • 5
  1. 1.Laboratory of Physical AnthropologyKyoto UniversityKyotoJapan
  2. 2.Center for the Advanced Study of Human Paleobiology, Department of AnthropologyThe George Washington UniversityWashington, DCUSA
  3. 3.Department of Anatomical SciencesStony Brook UniversityStony BrookUSA
  4. 4.Institut Català de Paleontologia Miquel CrusafontUniversitat Autònoma de BarcelonaBarcelonaSpain
  5. 5.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of TorontoTorontoCanada

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