Comparative 3D quantitative analyses of trapeziometacarpal joint surface curvatures among living catarrhines and fossil hominins

M. W. Marzke, M. W. Tocheri, B. Steinberg, J. D. Femiani, S. P. Reece, R. L. Linscheid, C. M. Orr, R. F. Marzke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

60 Scopus citations


Comparisons of joint surface curvature at the base of the thumb have long been made to discern differences among living and fossil primates in functional capabilities of the hand. However, the complex shape of this joint makes it difficult to quantify differences among taxa. The purpose of this study is to determine whether significant differences in curvature exist among selected catarrhine genera and to compare these genera with hominin1 fossils in trapeziometacarpal curvature. Two 3D approaches are used to quantify curvatures of the trapezial and metacarpal joint surfaces: (1) stereophotogrammetry with nonuniform rational Bspline (NURBS) calculation of joint curvature to compare modern humans with captive chimpanzees and (2) laser scanning with a quadric-based calculation of curvature to compare modern humans and wild-caught Pan, Gorilla, Pongo, and Papio. Both approaches show that Homo has significantly lower curvature of the joint surfaces than does Pan. The second approach shows that Gorilla has significantly more curvature than modern humans, while Pongo overlaps with humans and African apes. The surfaces in Papio are more cylindrical and flatter than in Homo. Australopithecus afarensis resembles African apes more than modern humans in curvatures, whereas the Homo habilis trapezial metacarpal surface is flatter than in all genera except Papio. Neandertals fall at one end of the modern human range of variation, with smaller dorsovolar curvature. Modern human topography appears to be derived relative to great apes and Australopithecus and contributes to the distinctive human morphology that facilitates forceful precision and power gripping, fundamental to human manipulative activities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)38-51
Number of pages14
JournalAmerican journal of physical anthropology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2010


  • Geometric modeling
  • Laser scanning
  • Morphology
  • Stereophotogrammetry
  • Thumb

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anatomy
  • Anthropology


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