Evolution of the Arch of the Foot

Chimpanzee and human midfoot motion during bipedal walking and the evolution of the longitudinal arch of the foot
Nicholas B. Holowka, Matthew C. O’Neill, Nathan E. Thompson, Brigitte Demes
Summarized by Time Scavengers contributor, Maggie Limbeck

What data were used? The only data that were utilized in this study were five male humans and two male chimpanzees that were recorded while walking. The scientists applied markers on the joints and other key points in the feet of both the humans and chimpanzees based on where they hypothesized to see foot motion in both species. These markers provided the data points that were analyzed in film after the experiment was completed.

Methods: 3D kinematic data (a human or chimpanzee foot in motion) was collected by recording the subjects walking at a self-selected speed for 11 meters. The researchers then selected representative steps for each subject to analyze the motion and utilization in certain regions of the foot. The data was analyzed using the packages ProAnalyst and MATLAB to calculate joint angles and estimate speed of walking. These angles were then used to determine the motion between the markers placed on the foot and understand the differences between human foot motion and chimpanzee foot motion.

Image of both a human and chimpanzee subject while walking. The dots on each foot indicate the markers that the researchers were using for data collection. The percentages on each image indicate the amount of motion in the midfoot that is being utilized during each part of taking a step.

Results: It was found that humans have a much greater range of motion along the sagittal plane (imaginary plane that divides the body into left and right sides) than chimpanzees, but the range of motion along the coronal plane (imaginary plane that divides the body into front and back) were similar in both species. While there were some great differences in motion along other planes the results state that the motion and parts of the foot involved are still activated at some point while walking, they are just activated during different parts of walking in chimpanzees and humans.

Why is this study important? This study is important because it was thought that the arch in human feet evolved to stiffen the foot while walking upright on two legs (bipedally) and that therefore chimpanzees would have a much greater motion in the midfoot than humans would while walking bipedally. This experiment rejects that idea because it was found that humans actually use a significantly greater amount of motion in the midfoot while walking than chimpanzees. This does not however, mean that at all times when walking do humans have more motion in their midfoot. The researchers broke walking into separate phases and during some of those phases the chimpanzees did have much more motion in their feet than humans; but when looking at the step as a whole, humans do have more motion than chimpanzees.

Big picture: The big picture here is that the total difference in range of motion between humans and chimpanzees is pretty small, only 4°. Therefore we can’t rely on using only midfoot joints to explain evolutionary differences between humans and chimpanzees. The authors suggest that looking further into morphology (shape) affects the function of the midfoot throughout motion. Essentially, evolution cannot always be easily explained by differences in bone shape–we must observe the action that the bones might be influencing.

Citation: Holowka, N.B., O’Neill, M.C., Thompson, N.E., Demes, B., 2017, Chimpanzee and human midfoot motion during bipedal walking and the evolution of the longitudinal arch of the foot: Journal of Human Evolution, p. 23-31.

Leave a Reply