The angular distribution of vertebral trabeculae in modern humans, chimpanzees and the Kebara 2 Neanderthal

KA Robson Brown, R Elwin, DS McNally

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)


Bone is known to remodel to optimize its structure according to its mechanical environment. In particular trabecular arcades are thought to align with the orientations of components of principal strain. This paper presents the application of a novel method for quantifying trabecular orientation to test the hypothesis that hominoid posture and locomotion are reflected in trabecular architecture.

Lateral radiographs were taken of vertebrae from the entire thoracolumbar spines of eight modern humans, seven Pan troglodytes and one Neanderthal. The radiographs were digitized and a square region of interest located at the centre of each vertebral body selected. Fourier transforms of the regions of interest were performed and the relative magnitude of the transform in each of 16 angular segments calculated. The simple indices of external vertebral body morphology, wedge angle and aspect ratio, were also calculated from the radiographs.

All three species exhibit the same pattern, with the majority of trabeculae oriented either axially or dorsoventrally. This suggests that vertebral mechanical loading is similar in chimpanzees and humans, despite their apparent postural and locomotor differences. Significant differences between the magnitudes of the Fourier transform in the 78·75° and 135° orientations of chimpanzee and human vertebrae were observed in all but the upper thoracic spine. As the magnitudes at these orientations in the Neanderthal correspond more closely to that in the human and the orientational features were unrelated to the external vertebral morphology, the difference between the two magnitudes may well prove to be a useful parameter in future phylogenetic analysis. Modern human spines were found to show a greater variation in the proportions of axial and dorsoventral trabeculae with spinal level than chimpanzees, with the greatest differences observed in the upper thoracic spine and thoracolumbar junction, suggesting an association with postural spinal curves.
Translated title of the contributionThe angular distribution of vertebral trabeculae
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)189-205
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Human Evolution
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2002


  • vertebra, trabecular architecture, image analysis, spine curvature, Neanderthal


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