Previously, we described several features of the carpometacarpal joints in extant large-bodied apes that are likely adaptations to the functional demands of vertical climbing and suspension. We observed that all hominids, including modern humans and the 4.4 million-year-old hominid Ardipithecus ramidus, lacked these features. Here, we assess the uniqueness of these features in a large sample of monkey, ape, and human hands. These new data provide additional insights into the functional adaptations and evolution of the anthropoid hand. Our survey highlights a series of anatomical adaptations that restrict motion between the second and third metacarpals (MC2, MC3) and their associated carpals in extant apes, achieved via joint reorganization and novel energy dissipation mechanisms. Their hamate-MC4 and -MC5 joint surface morphologies suggest limited mobility, at least in Pan. Gibbons and spider monkeys have several characters (angled MC3, complex capitate-MC3 joint topography, variably present capitate-MC3 ligaments), that suggest functional convergence in response to suspensory locomotion. Baboons have carpometacarpal morphology suggesting flexion/extension at these joints beyond that observed in most other Old World monkeys, probably as an energy dissipating mechanism minimizing collision forces during terrestrial locomotion. All hominids lack these specializations of the extant great apes, suggesting that vertical climbing was never a central feature of our ancestral locomotor repertoire. Furthermore, the reinforced carpo-metacarpus of vertically climbing African apes was likely appropriated for knuckle-walking in concert with other novel potential energy dissipating mechanisms. The most parsimonious explanation of the structural similarity of these carpo-metacarpal specializations in great apes is that they evolved independently. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.
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