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Bilateral Asymmetry of the Forearm Bones as Possible Evidence of Antemortem Trauma in the StW 573 Australopithecus Skeleton from Sterkfontein Member 2 (South Africa)

By A.J. Heile, Travis Rayne Pickering, Jason L. Heaton, R.J. Clarke

Posted 05 Dec 2018
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/486076

The 3.67-million-year-old StW 573 Australopithecus skeleton is important for the light it sheds on the paleobiology of South African species of that genus, including, as discussed here, how the possible pathology of the specimen informs our understanding of Australopithecus behavior. The StW 573 antebrachium exhibits bilateral asymmetry, with significantly more longitudinally curved left forearm bones than right. Arguing from a comparative perspective, we hypothesize that these curvatures resulted from a fall onto a hyperextended, outstretched hand. It is unlikely that the fall was from a significant height and might have occurred when the StW 573 individual was a juvenile. This type of plastic deformation of the forearm bones is well-documented in modern human clinical studies, especially among children between the ages of four and ten years who tumble from bicycles or suffer other common, relatively low-impact accidents. Left untreated, such injuries impinge normal supination and pronation of the hand, a condition that could have had significant behavioral impact on the StW 573 individual.

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