Unique foot posture in Neanderthals reflects their body mass and high mechanical stress

Neanderthal foot bone proportions and morphology are mostly indistinguishable from those of Homo sapiens, with the exception of several distinct Neanderthal features in the talus. The biomechanical implications of these distinct talar features remain contentious, fueling debate around the adaptive meaning of this distinctiveness. With the aim of clarifying this controversy, we test phylogenetic and behavioral factors as possible contributors, comparing tali of 10 Neanderthals and 81 H. sapiens (Upper Paleolithic and Holocene hunter-gatherers, agriculturalists, and postindustrial group) along with the Clark Howell talus (Omo, Ethiopia). Variation in external talar structures was assessed through geometric morphometric methods, while bone volume fraction and degree of anisotropy were quantified in a subsample (n = 45). Finally, covariation between point clouds of site-specific trabecular variables and surface landmark coordinates was assessed. Our results show that although Neanderthal talar external and internal morphologies were distinct from those of H. sapiens groups, shape did not significantly covary with either bone volume fraction or degree of anisotropy, suggesting limited covariation between external and internal talar structures. Neanderthal external talar morphology reflects ancestral retentions, along with various adaptations to high levels of mobility correlated to their presumably unshod hunter-gatherer lifestyle. This pairs with their high site-specific trabecular bone volume fraction and anisotropy, suggesting intense and consistently oriented locomotor loading, respectively. Relative to H.sapiens, Neanderthals exhibit differences in the talocrural joint that are potentially attributable to cultural and locomotor behavior dissimilarity, a talonavicular joint that mixes ancestral and functional traits, and a derived subtalar joint that suggests a predisposition for a pronated foot during stance phase. Overall, Neanderthal talar variation is attributable to mobility strategy and phylogenesis, while H. sapiens talar variation results from the same factors plus footwear. Our results suggest that greater Neanderthal body mass and/or higher mechanical stress uniquely led to their habitually pronated foot posture.



Work Title Unique foot posture in Neanderthals reflects their body mass and high mechanical stress
Open Access
  1. Rita Sorrentino
  2. Nicholas B. Stephens
  3. Damiano Marchi
  4. Lily J.D. DeMars
  5. Carla Figus
  6. Eugenio Bortolini
  7. Federica Badino
  8. Jaap P.P. Saers
  9. Matteo Bettuzzi
  10. Francesco Boschin
  11. Giulia Capecchi
  12. Francesco Feletti
  13. Tiziana Guarnieri
  14. Hila May
  15. Maria Pia Morigi
  16. William Parr
  17. Stefano Ricci
  18. Annamaria Ronchitelli
  19. Jay T. Stock
  20. Kristian J. Carlson
  21. Timothy M. Ryan
  22. Maria Giovanna Belcastro
  23. Stefano Benazzi
  1. Middle Paleolithic
  2. Tarsal
  3. Talus
  4. Functional morphology
  5. Biomechanics
  6. Footwear
License In Copyright (Rights Reserved)
Work Type Article
  1. Journal of Human Evolution
Publication Date November 5, 2021
Publisher Identifier (DOI)
  1. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jhevol.2021.103093
Deposited July 19, 2022




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Work History

Version 1

  • Created
  • Added Sorrentino_et_al.__2021.pdf
  • Added Creator Rita Sorrentino
  • Added Creator Nicholas B. Stephens
  • Added Creator Damiano Marchi
  • Added Creator Lily J.D. DeMars
  • Added Creator Carla Figus
  • Added Creator Eugenio Bortolini
  • Added Creator Federica Badino
  • Added Creator Jaap P.P. Saers
  • Added Creator Matteo Bettuzzi
  • Added Creator Francesco Boschin
  • Added Creator Giulia Capecchi
  • Added Creator Francesco Feletti
  • Added Creator Tiziana Guarnieri
  • Added Creator Hila May
  • Added Creator Maria Pia Morigi
  • Added Creator William Parr
  • Added Creator Stefano Ricci
  • Added Creator Annamaria Ronchitelli
  • Added Creator Jay T. Stock
  • Added Creator Kristian J. Carlson
  • Added Creator Timothy M. Ryan
  • Added Creator Maria Giovanna Belcastro
  • Added Creator Stefano Benazzi
  • Published
  • Updated Keyword, Publication Date Show Changes
    • Middle Paleolithic, Tarsal, Talus, Functional morphology, Biomechanics, Footwear
    Publication Date
    • 2021-12-01
    • 2021-11-05
  • Updated