The morphology of Oreopithecus bambolii pollical distal phalanx

Sergio Almécija, Marvin Shrewsbury, Lorenzo Rook, Salvador Moyà-Solà

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12 Citations (Scopus)


Oreopithecus bambolii is a Late Miocene ape from Italy, first described in the late 19th century. Its interpretation is still highly controversial, especially in reference to its hand proportions and thumb morphology. In this study, the authors provide detailed descriptions of the available Oreopithecus pollical distal phalanx (PDP) specimens, as well as bivariate and multivariate morphometric analyses in comparison with humans, extant apes, selected anthropoid monkeys, and available Miocene PDP specimens. The multivariate results reveal two opposite poles on the hominoid PDP shape spectrum: on one side, a mediolaterally broad and dorsopalmarly short human PDP, and on the other side, the narrow and "conical" PDP of chimpanzees and orangutans. The authors contend that Oreopithecus exhibits intermediate PDP proportions that are largely primitive for hominoids because it shares morphological similarities with Proconsul. Furthermore, Oreopithecus displays a mediolaterally wide tuft for a hominoid, as well as a palmarly elevated attachment for a long tendon of a flexor muscle that is associated at its proximal edge with a proximal fossa and at its distal edge with an ungual fossa. These nonmetrical traits have been associated in humans with their capability to oppose and contact the proximal pads of the thumb and fingers, that is, pad-to-pad precision grasping. These traits reinforce previous studies that indicate a human-like thumb-to-hand length ratio compatible with pad-to-pad precision grasping in Oreopithecus. Although specific hand use is still unresolved in Oreopithecus, the results suggest enhanced manipulative skills (unrelated to stone tool-making) in this taxon relative to other (extant or fossil) hominoids. Am J Phys Anthropol 153:582-597, 2014. © 2014 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Copyright © 2014 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)582-597
JournalAmerican Journal of Physical Anthropology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2014


  • hominoid hand evolution
  • Miocene apes
  • precision grasping
  • thumb morphology


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