Comparison of the skeletons of three bipedal mammals: an Egyptian jerboa, an eastern gray kangaroo and a human. (Credit: Image courtesy of University of Texas at Austin)
Anthropology researchers from The University of Texas at Austin have confirmed a direct link between upright two-legged (bipedal) walking and the position of the foramen magnum, a hole in the base of the skull that transmits the spinal cord.
The study, published in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Human Evolution, confirms a controversial finding made by anatomist Raymond Dart, who discovered the first known two-legged walking (bipedal) human ancestor, Australopithecus africanus. Since Dart’s discovery in 1925, physical anthropologists have continued to debate whether this feature of the cranial base can serve as a direct link to bipedal fossil species.
Chris Kirk, associate professor of anthropology and co-author of the study, says the findings validate foramen magnum position as a diagnostic tool for fossil research and sheds further insight into human evolution.
“Now that we know that a forward-shifted foramen magnum is characteristic of bipedal mammals generally, we can be more confident that fossil species showing this feature were also habitual bipeds,” Kirk says. “Our methods can be applied to fossil material belonging to some of the earliest potential human ancestors.”
The foramen magnum in humans is centrally positioned under the braincase because the head sits atop the upright spine in bipedal postures. In contrast, the foramen magnum is located further toward the back of the skull in chimpanzees and most other mammals, as the spine is positioned more behind the head in four-legged postures. Via Anthropologists confirm link between cranial anatomy and two-legged walking.