Understanding the evolution of the windlass mechanism of the human foot from comparative anatomy: Insights, obstacles, and future directions.

Journal Article (Journal Article)

Humans stand alone from other primates in that we propel our bodies forward on a relatively stiff and arched foot and do so by employing an anatomical arrangement of bones and ligaments in the foot that can operate like a "windlass." This is a significant evolutionary innovation, but it is currently unknown when during hominin evolution this mechanism developed and within what genera or species it originated. The presence of recently discovered fossils along with novel research in the past two decades have improved our understanding of foot mechanics in humans and other apes, making it possible to consider this question more fully. Here we review the main elements thought to be involved in the production of an effective, modern human-like windlass mechanism. These elements are the triceps surae, plantar aponeurosis, medial longitudinal arch, and metatarsophalangeal joints. We discuss what is presently known about the evolution of these features and the challenges associated with identifying each of these specific components and/or their function in living and extinct primates for the purpose of predicting the presence of the windlass mechanism in our ancestors. In some cases we recommend alternative pathways for inferring foot mechanics and for testing the hypothesis that the windlass mechanism evolved to increase the speed and energetic efficiency of bipedal gait in hominins.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Griffin, NL; Miller, CE; Schmitt, D; D'Août, K

Published Date

  • January 2015

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 156 / 1

Start / End Page

  • 1 - 10

PubMed ID

  • 25303732

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1096-8644

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0002-9483

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1002/ajpa.22636


  • eng