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StW 573 Australopithecus prometheus: Its Significance for an Australopith Bauplan

Crompton, Robin Huw; McClymont, Juliet; Elton, Sarah; Thorpe, Susannah; Sellers, William; Heaton, Jason; Pickering, Travis Rayne; Pataky, Todd; Carlson, Kristian J.; Jashashvili, Tea; Beaudet, Amélie; Bruxelles, Laurent; Goh, Ethan; Kuman, Kathleen; Clarke, Ronald

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Robin Huw Crompton

Juliet McClymont

Susannah Thorpe

William Sellers

Jason Heaton

Travis Rayne Pickering

Todd Pataky

Kristian J. Carlson

Tea Jashashvili

Amélie Beaudet

Laurent Bruxelles

Ethan Goh

Kathleen Kuman

Ronald Clarke


The StW 573 skeleton of Australopithecus prometheus from Sterkfontein Member 2 is some 93% complete and thus by far the most complete member of that genus yet found. Firmly dated at 3.67 Ma, it is one of the earliest specimens of its genus. A crucial aspect of interpretation of locomotor behaviour from fossil remains is an understanding of the palaeoenvironment in which the individual lived and the manner in which it would have used it. While the value of this ecomorphological approach is largely accepted, it has not been widely used as a stable framework on which to build evolutionary biomechanical interpretations. Here, we collate the available evidence on StW 573’s anatomy in order, as far as currently possible, to reconstruct what might have been this individual’s realized and potential niche. We explore the concept of a common Australopithecus “bauplan” by comparing the morphology and ecological context of StW 573 to that of paenocontemporaneous australopiths including Australopithecus anamensis and KSD-VP-1/1 Australopithecus afarensis. Each was probably substantially arboreal and woodland-dwelling, relying substantially on arboreal resources. We use a hypothesis-driven approach, tested by: virtual experiments, in the case of extinct species; biomechanical analyses of the locomotor behaviour of living great ape species; and analogical experiments with human subjects. From these, we conclude that the habitual locomotor mode of all australopiths was upright bipedalism, whether on the ground or on branches. Some later australopiths such as Australopithecus sediba undoubtedly became more terrestrial, allowing sacrifice of arboreal stability in favour of manual dexterity. Indeed, modern humans retain arboreal climbing skills but have further sacrificed arboreal effectiveness for enhanced ability to sustain striding terrestrial bipedalism over much greater distances. We compare StW 573’s locomotor adaptations to those of living great apes and protohominins, and agree with those earlier observers who suggest that the common panin-hominin last common ancestor was postcranially more like Gorilla than Pan.


Crompton, R., McClymont, J., Elton, S., Thorpe, S., Sellers, W., Heaton, J., …Clarke, R. (2022). StW 573 Australopithecus prometheus: Its Significance for an Australopith Bauplan. Folia Primatologica, 92(5-6), 243-275.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Sep 15, 2021
Online Publication Date Sep 28, 2021
Publication Date 2022-01
Deposit Date Oct 20, 2022
Publicly Available Date Oct 20, 2022
Journal Folia Primatologica
Print ISSN 0015-5713
Electronic ISSN 1421-9980
Publisher Karger Publishers
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 92
Issue 5-6
Pages 243-275


Accepted Journal Article (29.7 Mb)

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