Re-interpreting the evidence for bipedality in Homo floresiensis

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South African Journal of Science

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University of Cape Town

The unveiling in October 2004 of the remains of a pygmy-sized hominin recovered from a cave on the island of Flores, Indonesia, sparked an intense series of debates within the palaeoanthropology community. The discoverers diagnosed it to be a new species of Homo, which they called Homo floresiensis, and they interpreted the postcranial morphology as being 'consistent with human-like obligate bipedalism'. We have examined the morphology with the aim of determining whether biomechanical evidence supports the claim that this hominin - known as LB1 - was indeed habitually bipedal. LB1's innominate bone differs from that of modern humans through the marked lateral flaring of the ilium, while her femur has a small head and a relatively long neck. Although these features are also found in australopithecines and are commonly regarded as 'primitive' traits, we concluded that none would have prevented her from exhibiting an efficient, bipedal gait. Having established that LB1 walked on two legs, we employed the principle of dynamic similarity to speculate how she might have walked. Assuming the gait of LB1 was dynamically similar to that of modern Homo sapiens, we used known dimensionless parameters, together with her leg length (0.55 m), to estimate her fundamental gait parameters : step length = 0.45 m, step frequency = 2.48 steps / second and speed = 1.11 m/s. Our review has provided insights regarding the way in which LB1 and her fellow diminutive hominins walked about the island of Flores over 18 000 years ago.