Postcranial robusticity in Homo. I: Temporal trends and mechanical interpretation

Christopher B. Ruff, Erik Trinkaus, Alan Walker, Clark Spencer Larsen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Temporal trends in postcranial robusticity within the genus Homo are explored by comparing cross‐sectional diaphyseal and articular properties of the femur, and to a more limited extent, the humerus, in samples of Recent and earlier Homo. Using both theoretical mechanical models and empirical observations within Recent humans, scaling relationships between structural properties and bone length are developed. The influence of body shape on these relationships is considered. These scaling factors are then used to standardize structural properties for comparisons with pre‐Recent Homo (Homo sp. and H. erectus, archaic H. sapiens, and early modern H. sapiens). Results of the comparisons lead to the following conclusions: 1) There has been a consistent, exponentially increasing decline in diaphyseal robusticity within Homo that has continued from the early Pleistocene through living humans. Early modern H. sapiens are closer in shaft robusticity to archaic H. sapiens than they are to Recent humans. The increase in diaphyseal robusticity in earlier Homo is a result of both medullary contraction and periosteal expansion relative to Recent humans. 2) There has been no similar temporal decline in articular robusticity within Homo–relative femoral head size is similar in all groups and time periods. Thus, articular to shaft proportions are different in pre‐Recent and Recent Homo. 3) These findings are most consistent with a mechanical explanation (declining mechanical loading of the postcranium), that acted primarily through developmental rather than genetic means. The environmental (behavioral) factors that brought about the decline in postcranial robusticity in Homo are ultimately linked to increases in brain size and cultural‐technological advances, although changes in robusticity lag behind changes in cognitive capabilities. © 1993 Wiley‐Liss, Inc.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)21-53
Number of pages33
JournalAmerican journal of physical anthropology
Issue number1
StatePublished - May 1993


  • Allometry
  • Biomechanics
  • Femur
  • Humerus
  • Skeletal adaptation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anatomy
  • Anthropology


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