The Shoulder Girdle of KSD-VP-1/1

  • Stephanie M. MelilloEmail author
Part of the Vertebrate Paleobiology and Paleoanthropology book series (VERT)


Extant humans and non-human apes differ markedly in shoulder girdle anatomy. Our understanding of the evolutionary history of this region was previously limited by poor fossil preservation, but over the past decade a number of impressively complete scapulae and clavicles have been described for the genus Australopithecus . However, independent analyses have reached different conclusions regarding the morphological affinity of each specimen and the degree of difference among specimens. This study provides a more detailed comparative description of the KSD-VP-1/1 scapula and clavicle, which constitute the oldest substantial evidence of hominin shoulder girdle anatomy currently known. The results suggest that the adult Australopithecus afarensis scapula is morphologically distinct, but more similar to that of modern humans than previously recognized. Some aspects of clavicle morphology are similar to non-human apes, but are also variably present in Pleistocene hominins. If comparable methodology is employed, no difference exists among Australopithecus specimens. When this morphology is considered with reference to a parsimony-based model of the chimpanzee–human last common ancestor, the adult Australopithecus shoulder girdle is derived toward morphology associated with emphasis on a manipulatory function of the pendant upper limb.


Scapula Clavicle Australopithecus Geometric morphometrics 



I am grateful to Yohannes Haile-Selassie for the invitation to study this material and to all the members of the Woranso-Mille Paleontological Research Project for their many years of work at the KSD-VP-1 excavation. I thank Scott Simpson, Richard Klein, and anonymous reviewers for their comments on this manuscript. Many museum curators and staff helped in accessing collections, including Lyman Jellema, Judy Chupasko, Wim Wendelen, Linda Gordon, Brendon Billings, Bernhard Zipfel, Stephany Potze, and Alemu Ademassu. A special thank you to members of the Malapa project and to Steve Churchill for casts of MH2. Field and laboratory research at Woranso-Mille is authorized by the Ethiopian Authority for Research and Conservation of Cultural Heritage and the Afar Regional State. Financial support for this research was provided by the Leakey Foundation and Stanford University.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Human EvolutionMax Planck Institute for Evolutionary AnthropologyLeipzigGermany

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