The effects of distal limb segment shortening on locomotor efficiency in sloped terrain: Implications for Neandertal locomotor behavior

Ryan W. Higgins, Christopher B. Ruff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Past studies of human locomotor efficiency focused on movement over flat surfaces and concluded that Neandertals were less efficient than modern humans due to a truncated limb morphology, which may have developed to aid thermoregulation in cold climates. However, it is not clear whether this potential locomotor disadvantage would also exist in nonflat terrain. This issue takes on added importance since Neandertals likely spent a significant proportion of their locomotor schedule on sloped, mountainous terrains in the Eurasian landscape. Here a model is developed that determines the relationship between lower limb segment lengths, terrain slope, excursion angle at the hip, and step length. The model is applied to Neandertal and modern human lower limb reconstructions. In addition, for a further independent test that also allows more climate-terrain cross comparisons, the same model is applied to bovids living in different terrains and climates. Results indicate that: (1) Neandertals, despite exhibiting shorter lower limbs, would have been able to use similar stride frequencies per speed as longer-limbed modern humans on sloped terrain, due to their lower crural indices; and (2) shortened distal limb segments are characteristic of bovids that inhabit more rugged terrains, regardless of climate. These results suggest that the shortened distal lower limb segments of Neandertals were not a locomotor disadvantage within more rugged environments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)336-345
Number of pages10
JournalAmerican journal of physical anthropology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Nov 1 2011



  • Neandertal
  • bovid
  • crural
  • locomotion
  • terrain

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anatomy
  • Anthropology

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