New hand bones of Hadropithecus stenognathus: implications for the paleobiology of the Archaeolemuridae

Pierre Lemelin, Mark W. Hamrick, Brian G. Richmond, Laurie R. Godfrey, William L. Jungers, David A. Burney

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


A partial, associated skeleton of Hadropithecus stenognathus (AHA-I) was discovered in 2003 at Andrahomana Cave in southeastern Madagascar. Among the postcranial elements found were the first hand bones (right scaphoid, right hamate, left first metacarpal, and right and left fifth metacarpals) attributed to this rare subfossil lemur. These hand bones were compared to those of extant strepsirrhines and catarrhines in order to infer the positional adaptations of Hadropithecus, and they were compared to those of Archaeolemur in order to assess variation in hand morphology among archaeolemurids. The scaphoid tubercle does not project palmarly as in suspensory and climbing taxa, and the hamate has no hook at all (just a small tubercle), which also points to a poorly developed carpal tunnel. There is a distinctive, radioulnarly directed "spiral" facet for articulation with the triquetrum that is most similar in orientation to that of more terrestrial primates (i.e., Lemur catta, Papio, and Gorilla). The first metacarpal is very reduced and represents only 48% of the length of metacarpal V, as in Archaeolemur, which suggests that pollical grasping of arboreal supports was not important. Compared to Archaeolemur, the shaft of metacarpal V is gracile, and the head has no dorsal ridge and lacks characteristics functionally associated with digitigrade, extended metacarpophalangeal joint postures. Proximally, the articular facet for the hamate is oriented more dorsally. Thus, the carpometacarpal joint V appears to have a distinctive hyperextended set, which has no analog among living or extinct primates. The carpals of Hadropithecus are diagnostic of a pronograde, arboreal and terrestrial (although not digitigrade) locomotor repertoire that typifies Lemur catta and some Old World monkeys. No clinging, suspensory, or climbing specializations that characterize indriids or lorises can be found in the hand of this subfossil lemur. The hand of Hadropithecus likely had similar ranges of movement at the radiocarpal and midcarpal joints as of those of pronograde primates, such as lemurids, for which the hand is held in a more extended, pronated, and neutral (i.e., showing less ulnar deviation) position during locomotion in comparison to that of vertical clingers or slow climbers. Although highly autapomorphic, the hand of Hadropithecus resembles that of its sister taxon, Archaeolemur, in having a very reduced pollex and an articular facet on the scaphoid for a sizeable prepollex. These unusual hand features reinforce the monophyly of the Archaeolemuridae.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)405-413
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Human Evolution
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2008


  • Archaeolemur
  • Carpals
  • Locomotion
  • Madagascar
  • Metacarpals
  • Strepsirrhines
  • Subfossil lemurs

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Anthropology


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