Advances in Anthropology
2013. Vol.3, No.3, 133-141
Published Online August 2013 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 133
Sacral Orientation in Hominin Evolution
Ella Been1,3*, Hayuta Pessah2, Smadar Peleg3, Patricia A. Kramer4
1Department of Anatomy and Anthropology, Sackler Faculty of Medicine, Tel Aviv University, Tel Aviv, Israel
2Department of Anatomy, Zinman College, Wingate Institute, Netanya, Israel
3Physical Therapy Department, Zefat Academic College, Zefat, Israel
4Departments of Anthropology and Orthopaedics, University of Washington, Seattle, USA
Email: *
Received February 15th, 2013; revised March 21st, 2013; accepted March 27th, 2013
Copyright © 2013 Ella Been et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attri-
bution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the
original work is properly cited.
Sagittal sacral orientation within the pelvic girdle of humans is a key component of posture and obstetrics.
On the one hand, sacral orientation has direct influence on the lumbar curvature; while on the other hand,
it has an impact on the dorsoventral dimension of the birth canal. In this study, we aim to explore the
evolution of sacral orientation in the sagittal plane and its relationship with the lumbar curvature in
hominins. To do this, we measured sacral orientation using the pelvic incidence (PI) angle of the pelves of
53 modern humans, 19 nonhuman hominoids, and 4 fossil hominins. Our results show that the PIs of
modern and fossil H. sapiens are the highest while the PI of nonhuman hominoids is the lowest (a nearly
parallel sacrum in relation to the hip bone). Australopithecines PI is higher than that of nonhuman homi-
noids, but lower than that of modern humans. The PI of Homo heidelbergensis and H. neanderthalensis
(Neandertal lineage hominins) is the lowest among hominins. We also found a strong correlation between
lumbar lordosis and PI in nonhuman hominoids and hominins, indicating that PI angle is a good predictor
of the lumbar lordosis when only the pelvis is preserved. We conclude that sacral orientation changed
during the course of human evolution. When Neandertal lineage hominins are ignored, the results indicate
a fairly simple path of evolution from nonhuman hominoid-like to human-like sacral orientation with two
stages of the development. Neandertal lineage hominins show a reversal of this trend.
Keywords: Posture; Bipedal Gait; Obstetric; Australopithecus; Neandertal; H. sapiens
Pelvic morphology plays a paramount role in posture and
locomotion, and the orientation of the sacrum in the pelvic
girdle is a critical aspect of pelvic morphology. The sacrum
supports the upper body in standing and walking by transferring
weight from the spine to the pelvis and the lower limb (Lazen-
nec et al., 2004; Peleg et al., 2007) and, therefore, the size,
position, and orientation of the sacrum dictate much of the ver-
tebral column’s form, shape and stability (Peleg et al., 2007).
During the evolution of bipedal gait in hominins, sacral ori-
entation underwent distinct changes. In contrast to the tall and
narrow pelvis of Miocene apes (Ward, 1993; Lovejoy, 2005;
Crompton et al., 2008), the shallow and broad pelvis of
hominins exhibits a sacrum that is closer to the acetabulum and
enhances stability (Tague & Lovejoy, 1986; Crompton et al.,
2008). At the same time, the sacrum moved from a position that
is almost parallel to the iliac blades when viewed from the side
to the distinctive angled sacrum of humans. This relationship of
the sacrum to the iliac blades is called sacral tilt and the human
sacrum is described as “tilted” (Hogervorst et al., 2009). In
erect posture (anatomical position), when the anterior superior
iliac spines and the pubic symphysis are situated in the same
vertical plane, a strong tilt means more horizontal sacrum (Ho-
gervorst et al., 2009), and a small tilt means a more vertical
sacrum (Figure 1). The tilting of the sacrum in the pelvis is
concordant with the development of lordotic curvature (lumbar
lordosis), which aligns the spine in erect posture: more vertical
i.e., less tilted sacra are related to less lordotic lumbar spines
while tilted sacra are related to more lordotic lumbar spines.
(Tardieu et al., 2006; Boulay et al., 2006; Legaye, 2007). Some
authors have proposed explanations for the change in sacral tilt
in bipedal hominins (Abitbol, 1987; Lovejoy, 2005; Hogervorst
et al., 2009): the obstetric hypothesis, which suggests that the
sacrum is tilted in order to accommodate the pelvic outlet to the
enlarged fetal head of humans; and the locomotive hypothesis,
which correlates sacral tilt to the biomechanical demands of
erect posture and bipedalism, as it serves to bring the weight of
the trunk closer to the acetabulum (Abitbol, 1987).
Sacral curvature and sacral length also influence the
dorsoventral dimension of the birth canal. A more curved sa-
crum brings the tip of the sacrum closer to the pubis and,
therefore, reduces the dorsoventral dimension of the pelvic
outlet. A longer (cranio-caudal) sacrum also reduces the dor-
soventral dimension of the pelvic outlet (Tague, 2000). Al-
though both sacral curvature and length are important aspects
determining the dimensions of the bony birth canal, our focus
in this report is on the orientation of the sacrum within the pel-
Paleoanthropologists have used different methods to describe
the orientation of the sacrum in hominins and the use of these
*Corresponding author.
different methods and reconstructions has led to opposing
views regarding sacral tilt. For example, Abitbol (1995a, 1995b)
reports a horizontal sacrum in an anatomical position in AL-
288-1 and in STS-14, while Berge & Goularas (2010) report a
more vertically oriented sacrum in the same specimens. The
clinical literature supplies an abundance of measurement
methods for sacral orientation (Von Lackum, 1924; Ferguson,
1934; Stagnara et al., 1982; During et al., 1985; Duval-Beau-
père et al., 1992; Jackson & McManus, 1994; Gardocki et al.,
2002; Labelle et al., 2005), but, unfortunately, most of these
methods are only applicable to living individuals and are not
useful in osteological remains because they are positional de-
pendent. One method for assessing sacral orientation that is an
exception to this requirement for living representatives is pelvic
incidence (PI) angle. PI is a measure of the relationship be-
tween a line connecting the acetabula and the sacral endplate
(Tardieu et al., 2006). Although several morphological features
influence PI, it is, in essence, a measure of the inclination of the
first sacral vertebra (S1) endplate to the axis of rotation of the
body on the hind limbs. Variability in PI angle indicates differ-
ences in the spatial relationship between the sacral endplate and
the acetabula and, consequently, PI has functional importance
(Figure 1) (Duval-Beaupère et al., 1992; Legaye et al., 1998).
PI is considered posture independent and can be easily meas-
ured on osteological material using radiographs or 3-D land-
mark analysis (Legaye et al., 1998; Labelle et al., 2005; Peleg
et al., 2007). For an individual, the value of PI does not change
with pelvic orientation. It is, therefore, not necessary to know
the habitual posture (orientation of the pelvis to the femur) of
the individual in order to calculate PI.
The PI of modern humans is often described in terms of the
anatomical planes. When the pelvis of humans is held in ana-
tomical position, greater PI indicates increased sacral inclina-
tion (the angle between the posterior wall of the first sacral
vertebra and the vertical line) meaning a more horizontal sa-
crum (greater sacral tilt). Greater PI also indicates more vertical
sacral endplate (greater sacral slope) and increased lumbar lor-
dotic curvature (Legaye, 1998; Boulay et al., 2006; Peleg et al.,
2007). Smaller PIs indicates decreased sacral inclination mean-
ing a more vertical sacrum (smaller sacral tilt), horizontal sacral
endplate (small sacral slope), and decreased lordotic curvature
(Tardieu et al., 2006; Legaye, 2007) (See Figure 1). Boulay et
al. (2006) and Legaye (2007) found strong and positive correla-
tions between all of the above variables (PI, sacral inclination,
sacral slope, lumbar lordosis) indicating that PI is a good
measurement to describe sacral orientation. Specifically Legaye
(2007) showed that PI correlates with the orientation of the
posterior wall of the sacrum in relation to the horizontal plane
and in a relation to the femoral heads. For example, a person
with a low PI (<44) also has a decreased sacral-slope, a more
vertical sacrum and the lordosis will be flattened. On the other
hand, a person with a high PI (>62) also has an increased sacral
slope, a more horizontal sacrum, and the lordosis will be more
pronounced (Boulay et al., 2006; Legaye, 2007).
If the human pelvis is rotated out of anatomical position, the
description (e.g. “more vertical”) will change, but the value of
PI will not. Other values, such as sacral table angle, will also
remain the same, as they are measured within the pelvis, and
are not influenced by pelvic spatial orientation (Legaye, 2007).
Therefore, although several morphological features influence PI,
it is, in essence, a measure of the inclination of the S1 endplate
to the axis of rotation of the body on the hind limbs. Variability
Figure 1.
Pelvic incidence (PI), sacral slope (SS) and an arrow describing the
direction of increased sacral tilt in relation to the acetabular line.
in PI angle indicates differences in the spatial relationship be-
tween the sacral endplate and the acetabula and, consequently,
PI has functional importance. PI is well established in modern
humans; but it has not been thoroughly explored in nonhuman
primates (NHP) or in fossil hominins. Only two studies have
previously measured PI in fossil hominins and non human pri-
mates (Tardieu et al., 2006; Bonmatí et al., 2010) and their
results were compared only with modern humans.
The goals of this study, therefore, are twofold: first, we esta-
blish the orientation of the sacrum relative to the acetabula
(using PI as the metric) for nonhuman hominoids and for fossil
hominins and compare those values to that of modern humans,
in order to establish the change in sacral orientation during the
course of human evolution; and second, as it has been shown
that PI is a good indicator for lumbar lordosis in modern hu-
mans, we would like to explore the relationship between sacral
orientation and lumbar lordosis in nonhuman hominoids and
hominins. If indeed such correlation exists, it would enable us
to predict the lordosis angles for fossil hominins that preserve
only their pelvic bones.
Materials and Methods
The pelves of 19 extant nonhuman hominoids, 53 modern
humans and four fossil hominin specimens were measured. In
the modern human group, we measured 49 pelvic radiographs
and four pelves. The nonhuman hominoid sample included
eight chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes), three gorillas (Gorilla
gorilla), three orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus), and five gibbons
(Hylobates sp.). In this group, we measured 13 radiographs and
6 pelves (Table 1). The radiographs of the apes are part of the
collection of Tel Aviv University, the veterinary hospital in
Rishon Le Zion, and the Biblical Zoo in Jerusalem, Israel. The
radiographs of the modern humans were used in a previous
study (Been et al., 2007). The skeletal and cast material (mod-
ern human, nonhuman hominoids and fossil hominins) is
housed in the osteological collection of Tel Aviv University.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 135
All of the pelves that were used in this study belonged to ma-
ture individuals without major pelvic pathology (e.g. no frac-
tures, degeneration, etc).
The hominin sample included the pelves of: Australopithecus
afarensis (AL-288-1); A.africanus (STS-14); H. neandertha-
lensis (Kebara 2); and fossil H. sapiens (the original of Ohalo)
(See Table 2). We did not have access to the pelves from Gona
(Simpson et al., 2008) or Au. sediba (Kibii et al., 2011). We
also used the PI angles of two Homo heidelbergensis (Pelvis 1
and Pelvis 2 from Atapuerca, Sima de los Huesos) after Bon-
matí et al., 2010. For the analyses described below, the two
australopithecines were grouped based on shared pelvic fea-
tures and a (presumed) close phylogenetic relationship. Like-
wise, the two specimens of H. heidelbergensis were grouped
with the H. neanderthalensis specimen for similar reasons and
are designated “Neandertal lineage” (See also Stringer, 2012).
We acknowledge that PI might be influenced by pathology or
by post-mortem changes in pelvic morphology. This potential
problem is relevant to pelvis 1 from Sima de los Huesos, which
has changes in sacral endplate morphology probably due to
spondylolisthesis of the last lumbar vertebra (Pérez, 2003;
Bonmatí et al., 2010), and the sacrum of Kebara 2, which has a
remarkably flat shape (Rak, 1991; Duday & Arensburg 1991;
Weaver, 2002; Bonmatí et al., 2010). The degree to which ei-
ther pathology or post-mortem changes might influence the
measured PI of these specimen is not known. The lumbar lor-
dosis data was taken from our previous publications (Been et al.,
2007, 2010, 2012).
Table 1.
Pelvic incidence of modern humans fossil hominins and nonhuman hominoids.
X ± sd, (range)
No. of pelves measured
27 ± 5 (20 - 38) 19/13/6 Nonhuman hominoids (total)
29 ± 6 8/3/5 Pan
28 ± 7 3/3/0 Gorilla
28 ± 6 3/2/1 Pongo
25 ± 4 5/3/2 Hylobates
54 ± 10 (32 - 84) 53/49/4 Modern H. sapiens
52 1/0/1 Ohalo (original) Fossil H. sapiens
32 ± 3 3/0/3
34 Kebara 2 (cast)
28 Sima de los Huesos, pelvis 1*
33 Sima de los Huesos, pelvis 2*
Neandertal lineage (combined group, the
2 specimens from Sima de los Huesos
and Kebara 2)
43.5 ± 2 2/0/2
42 AL-288-1 (cast)
45 STS-14 (cast)
*after Bonmatí et al. (2010).
Table 2.
Hominin specimens.
State of preservation Reconstruction Observations Location Chronology Species Individual
Robinson (1972) described
the fossil as a “virtually
complete pelvis” that “has
suffered relatively little
damage.” Two sacral
vertebrae are intact S1-S2.
Young adult
Robinson (1972),
(Bonmatí et al., 2008).
South Africa
2.5 Ma
(Schwarcz et
al., 1994)
Nearly complete sacrum
and left innominate. Five
sacral vertebrae.
Adult female.
3.2 Ma
(Walter, 1994)
Austral opithecu s
Complete pelvis. Five
sacral vertebrae
20 - 30 years old male
(Arensburg et al.,
60 Ka
(Valladas et al.,
H. neanderthalensisKebara 2
Nearly complete pelvis. Six
sacral vertebrae.
Asymmetry between the
morphology of the right
and left auricular surfaces.
Bonmatí et al.,
Over 45 years
old male.
0.6 Ma
(Bischoff et al.,
H. heidelbergensis
Sima de los
Pelvis 1
Nearly complete left
os coxae and first sacral
Bonmatí et al.,
0.6 Ma
(Bischoff et al.,
H. heidelbergensis
Sima de los
Huesos Pelvis 2
Complete os coxae and
Adult male
(Nadel and
Hershkovitz, 1991)
20 Ka
(Nadel and
H. sapiens Ohalo
Pelvic incidence (PI) is the angle between a line drawn per-
pendicular to the superior endplate of the first sacral vertebra
(S1) at its midpoint (the center of the sagittal diameter) and the
line connecting this point to an axis that connects the center of
the acetabula (Legaye et al., 1998; Legaye & Duval-Beaupère,
2008), as is demonstrated in Figures 1 and 2. This is a measure
of the orientation of the S1 endplate to the axis of rotation of
the body on the hind limbs.
In this study, PI was measured using either a radiological or a
digital approach. In the radiological approach, PI was measured
on plain lateral pelvic radiographs. The radiographs of humans
were taken while the subjects were standing; the radiographs of
the nonhuman hominoids were taken while the subjects were
lying on their sides. Measurements were conducted as de-
scribed below, following the instructions by Duval-Beaupère et
al. (1992) and Legaye et al. (1998) (See Figure 2). The PI an-
gle was measured using a 25 cm Jamar goniometer with a 360˚
scale in 1˚ increments. In the digital approach, four anatomical
landmarks were used, including two on the superior endplate of
the first sacral vertebra (at the ventral and dorsal edge of the
vertebral endplate in the midsagittal plane) and two at the cen-
ters of the acetabula (Figure 1). The XYZ coordinates of each
landmark was recorded using a 3D microscribe (Immersion,
San Jose, California; accuracy of ±0.3 mm) and measured on an
articulated pelvis. PI was calculated based on these 4 points as
described by Peleg et al. (2007). All of the pelves that were
measured digitally were articulated.
Each of the hominin pelves was measured twice and the resu-
lts presented are the average of the measurements. Descriptive
statistics, Mann-Whitney test including Dunn-Šidák correction
for multiple comparisons [1 (1 α)1/n], and Pearson correla-
tion analysis were performed using JMP8 (JMP statistics soft-
ware, SAS institute, Cary, NC).
We examined the correlation between PI and lordotic angle
in nonhuman hominoids and hominins. To perform the calcula-
tion, we used the PIs from this study and the lumbar lordotic
Figure 2.
Radiological measurement of pelvic incidence (PI) drawn
on the pelvis of a modern human.
angles from a previous study (Been et al., 2012). The lordosis
angle of living individuals (humans and nonhuman hominoids)
was measured on lateral spinal radiographs using the Cobb
method. Measurement was taken between the superior endplate
of the first sacral vertebra and the superior end plate of the fifth
presacral vertebra which is the first lumbar vertebra in humans
(for more details see Been et al., 2010) (Figure 3). Fossil
hominin lordosis was calculated based on the relationship be-
tween the lordotic curvature and the orientation of the inferior
articular processes in the lumbar spines of a combined group of
living human and nonhuman primates (Been et al., 2010, 2012).
Because the method uses a measurement taken within each
vertebra, articulation of the entire lumbar spine is not required.
This method explains 89% of the variation in lordotic curvature
among living primates (Been et al., 2010, 2012).
The small number of fossil hominins in our sample lessens
the power of the inferential statistical methods and we have had
to rely mostly on descriptive analysis. Our hominin results
should, therefore, be taken with caution. Future findings with
new fossils might change the pattern we see.
Because there were no significant differences between the
radiologic measurements and the 3D measurements, as has
been shown previously (Boulay et al., 2005; Peleg et al., 2007),
we present only the combined results from the radiographic and
digital approaches (Tables 1 and 3, Figure 4).
The PI of the fossil H. sapiens Ohalo is similar to the PIs of
modern humans (Table 4) both have significantly higher (p <
0.01) PI than any other group. The PIs of each of the australo-
pithecines are within the range of PI of modern humans and
higher than the PI of nonhuman hominoids (Table 4). When we
apply the Mann-Whitney test for the australopithecines as one
group we find that their PI is significantly higher (p < 0.01)
than the PIs of nonhuman hominoids, and significantly lower (p
< 0.01) than the PIs of modern humans.
Figure 3.
Measurement of lordosis angle using the Cobb
method on lateral spinal radiograph of the lumbar
spine of a modern human.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
The PIs of each of the specimens from the Neandertal lineage
are smaller than the PI of modern humans and within the range
of PI of nonhuman hominoids. As a group the PIs of the Nean-
dertal lineage hominins (32˚ ± 3˚) are higher than that of non-
human hominoids (27˚ ± 5˚) although the difference does not
reach statistical significance (p = 0.11), and significantly lower
(p < 0.001) than the PIs of modern humans. The PIs of Nean-
dertal lineage hominins are also smaller than that of australo-
pithecines (p = 0.016).
When we apply the Dunn-Šidák correction for multiple
comparisons [1 (1 α)1/n] with an α = 0.05 and four groups
considered (modern humans, nonhuman hominoids, Neandertal
lineage hominins and australopithecines), the threshold value
obtained for significance is 0.0127. Using the 0.0127 threshold
would not change our results with one exception—the differ-
ence between Neandertal lineage hominins and australopith-
ecines (p = 0.016) becomes marginally nonsignificant (Table
We found a positive correlation between Lumbar lordosis
and PI in nonhuman hominoids and hominin group averages
(Table 5 and Figure 5, R2 = 0.962, p < 0.001) and in living
human and non human hominoids individuals (Figure 6, R2 =
0.658, p < 0.01).
The transition from quadrupedal to bipedal gait appears to
have involved, among other things, a change in sacral orienta-
tion as measured by PI, if the morphology of extant nonhuman
hominoids is a good proxy of that of stem hominoids. All bi-
pedal hominins studied here show greater PIs (32˚ - 54˚) than
nonhuman hominoids (27˚ ± 5˚), but the difference does not
reach significance for the Neandertal lineage hominins. The
two australopithecines specimens are similar (42˚ and 45˚) as
Figure 4.
Pelvic incidence of modern humans, fossil hominins and nonhuman
hominoids. Diamond = average; Bar = one standard deviation.
are the three Neandertal lineage hominins (34˚, 28˚ and 33˚),
providing support for those groupings.
Our results from the modern human group are similar to pre-
viously published data (Table 3). The PIs of the australopith-
ecines in our study (42˚ for AL-288-1 and 45˚ for STS-14) are
lower than those published by Tardieu et al. (2006) (43˚ - 47˚
for AL-288-1, and 47˚ - 54˚ for STS-14). While our results are
based on the reconstructions by Robinson (1972) for STS-14
and Lovejoy (1979) for AL-288-1, Tardieu et al. (2006) meas-
ured the PI of these specimens using the reconstruction by
Schmid (1983) for AL-288-1 and by Hausler (1992) for STS-14.
Using the values by Tardieu et al. would make australopith-
ecines more like modern humans, making more obvious the
difference between all other hominins and the Neandertal line-
age hominins. Our results regarding the orientation of the sa-
crum of australopithecines—smaller PI compared to H. sapiens
—are in agreement with Berge and Gualaras (2010), but con-
tradict the results of Abitbol (1995a, 1995b). Regarding the
Neandertal lineage hominins our results support the findings of
Weaver (2002) that has previously shown that the sacral tilt of
Neanderthals is smaller in relation to the pelvis than in modern
humans (corresponding to smaller PI).
Evolutionary Perspective of PI
When Neandertal lineage hominins are ignored, our results
indicate a fairly simple path of evolution from quadrupedal
apes to bipedal humans, with two stages in the development of
PI during the course of hominin evolution. The early stage was
characterized by an increase of about 15˚ in PI, from ~27˚ in
nonhuman hominoids to ~43˚ in australopithecines. This early
stage probably happened concurrent with the appearance of
bipedalism and lasted for several million years. The second
increase in PI occurred later in human evolution, with an in-
crease of about 10˚ shown by H. sapiens. The timing of that
second increase cannot be exactly determined from our data,
because we were unable to measure the pelvis that is known of
early genus Homo (the Gona pelvis). Based on the value of the
lumbar lordosis of the H. erectus specimen KNM-WT 15,000
(45˚) and the high correlation between the lordosis angle and PI,
we can speculate that its PI was similar to that of australopith-
ecines (between 40˚ - 45˚). If this holds true for other early
Homo specimens it would imply that the second increase hap-
pened later in human evolution as we find this second increase
of 10˚ only in the pelves of H. sapiens.
The small PI of the Neandertal lineage hominins (only 5˚
higher than that of nonhuman hominoids) complicates the sce-
nario. The difference in PIs between the Neandertal lineage
hominins and australopithecines is only marginally significant
(p = 0.016). Although we require additional information in
order to decide whether or not the difference between the two
groups in PI is significant, the pattern among hominin groups
for PI is similar to that shown by lumbar lordosis (Been et al.,
2012). This pattern suggests that the small PI angles of Nean-
dertal lineage hominins (similar to the small lordotic angle, see
Table 5) represents a reversal in the morphological trend of
increasing PIs along hominin evolution.
Functional Perspective of PI
The emergence of bipedal walking probably happened before
4.4 MYA, as can be seen by the pelvis, femur, and preserved
thoracic elements of Ardipitheus ramidus (Lovejoy et al., c
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 137
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
Table 3.
Pelvic incidence of modern humans.
Research N Age PI Method
Labelle et al. 2004 160 Adult 26 ± 6 52 ± 5 Radiographs
Vialle et al., 2005 300 Adult 20 - 70 56 ± 10 Radiographs
Boulay et al., 2006 149 Adult 19 - 50 53 ± 9 Radiographs
424 Adult 54 ± 12
169 21 - 40 52 ± 12
157 41 - 60 55 ± 13 Peleg et al., 2007
98 61+ 55 ± 13
Legaye & Duval-Beaupère. 2008 40 Adult 50 ± 12 Radiographs
Current study 53 Adult 54 ± 10 Radiographs +3D
Table 4.
Individual comparison of the pelvic incidence between the fossil individuals and the modern human and nonhuman hominoids sample using Z-scores
and Mann-Whitney’s U-test.
Z-score Mann-Whitney
Sample Individual Pelvic incidence
Fossil H. sapiens Ohalo 52 0.2 5**
H. neanderthalensis Kebara 2 34
2* 1.4
H. heidelbergensis Sima de los Huesos, pelvis 128 2.6** 0.2
H. heidelbergensis Sima de los Huesos, pelvis 233 2.1* 1.2
Neandertal lineage Sample mean ± SD 31.7 ± 3.2 0.0002** 0.114
Australopithecus africanus STS - 14 45 0.9 3.6**
Australopithecus afarensis AL 288-1 42 1.2 3**
Austral opithecu s Sample mean ± SD 43.5 ± 2 0.0097** 0.0078**
Modern human mean ± SD
(range) 54 ± 10
(32 - 84)
Nonhuman hominoids mean
± SD (range) 27 ± 5
(20 - 38)
Note: *p < 0.05; **p < 0.01. If we apply the Dunn-Šidák correction for multiple comparisons [1 (1 α)1/n] with an α = 0.05 and four groups considered (modern humans,
nonhuman hominoids, neandertal lineage and australopiths) the threshold value obtained for significance 0.0127, and there will be no change in our results.
Table 5.
Pelvic incidence (PI) and lumbar lordosis angle (LA) of modern hu-
mans, fossil hominins and nonhuman hominoids.
X ± sd, (range)
X ± sd, (range)
22 ± 3.4 (18 - 28)27 ± 5 (20 - 38) Nonhuman hominoids (total)
21 29 ± 6 Pan
25 28 ± 7 Gorilla
19 28 ± 6 Pongo
22 25 ± 4 Hylobates
51 ± 11 (24 - 75)54 ± 10 (32 - 84) Modern H. sapiens
54 ± 14 (44 - 64)52 Fossil H. sapiens
29 ± 4 (25 - 32) 34 Neandertal
41 ± 4 (38 - 44) 43.5 ± 2 Australopithecines
*After Been et al. 2012.
2009), and despite the retention of a capacity for substantial
arboreal locomotion. The pelvis and femur of australopithecines
indicate habitual bipedality in these hominins (Lovejoy, 2005;
Ward, 2002; Crompton et al., 2008), and later hominins from
the genus Homo are all considered to be habitual bipedal walk-
ers (Aiello & Wells, 2002; Crompton et al., 2008). Increased
sacral tilt (more angled sacrum in relation to the iliac blades
and greater PI) helps to bring the weight of the upper body
closer to the acetabulum, and it enlarges the pelvic midplane
and outlet to accommodate a large fetal head (Tague & Lovejoy,
1986; Ward, 2002).
The difference in PI angles among the bipedal hominins
(from 32˚ in Neandertal lineage hominins to 54˚ in H. sapiens)
infers postural, locomotor and/or obstetrical differences be-
tween the groups. All premodern hominins—australopithecines
as well as archaic Homo—apparently had mediolaterally very
wide pelves, related to an M-L widened birth canal and a possi-
ble non-rotational birth mechanism (Ruff, 2010). Our results
show that hominins with wide pelves (australopithecines and
Neandertal lineage hominins) have smaller PI angles (more
vertical sacra) than do hominins with narrow pelves (fossil and
modern H. sapiens). If all else is the same, decreased PI angle
Figure 5.
Bivariate Fit of Lordosis angle (average) by Pelvic incidence (average)
in modern humans, fossil hominins and nonhuman hominoids. R2 =
0.962, p < 0.01. = Modern humans; = Fossil H. sapiens; = Nean-
dertal lineage hominins; = Australopithecine; Δ = Pan; * = Gorilla; +
= Pongo; = Hylobates.
Figure 6.
Bivariate Fit of Lordosis angle by Pelvic incidence in modern hu-
mans and nonhuman hominoids living individuals. R2 = 0.658, p <
0.01. = Modern humans; Δ = Pan; * = Gorilla; + = Pongo; =
(a more vertical sacrum) locates the sacral tip (S5) closer to the
pubis and the ischial tuberosities and, therefore, might decrease
the anteroposterior dimension of the pelvic midplane and outlet
(Hogervorst et al., 2009; See Figure 7).
Figure 7.
Schematic illustration of PI and pelvic outlet of nonhuman hominoids,
australopithecines and modern humans. (a) Modern human; (b) Austra-
lopithecines; (c) Nonhuman hominoid. Shaded gray area = pelvic inci-
dence; = pelvic outlet.
PI and the Lordotic Curvature
We found a close correlation between PI and lumbar lordosis
in hominins and nonhuman hominoids (R2 = 0.962 for group
averages, and R2 = 0.658 for living individuals). This finding
expands the already established correlation between PI and
lumbar lordosis in modern humans (Vaz et al., 2002; Boulay et
al., 2006; Lee, 2010). The correlation implies that PI is a good
indicator of the lumbar lordosis of hominoid specimens.
In conclusion, despite diversity in the sample composition
(skeletal, casts, radiology, different reconstruction processes,
pathological individuals) and small sample sizes (of the fossil
hominins and apes), a pattern of change in pelvic incidence
during the course of human evolution emerges from the present
study. This change probably happened in response to the par-
ticular biomechanical and obstetrical demands that bipedalism
exerted on each hominin species. H. sapiens has a narrow pel-
vis and higher PIs (more horizontal sacrum in relation to the
iliac blades); australopithecines and Neandertal lineage homi-
nins have a wider pelvis and smaller PIs. The correlation be-
tween PIs and lumbar lordosis angles in hominins and nonhu-
man hominoids can be used to estimate the lordosis angles in
hominoid subgroups where only the pelvis is intact.
The authors wish to thank Dr. Itzhak Aizenberg, Koret
School of Veterinary Medicine, Hebrew University, Jerusalem;
Dr. Nili Avni-Magen, Biblical Zoo, Jerusalem; Ms. Zila Shariv,
Zoology Museum, Tel Aviv University; And Dr. Yigal
Horovits, Saphari, Ramat-Gan, for enabling us to study radio-
graphs and skeletal material in their care. Special thanks to Prof.
Yoel Rak, Dr. Michal Katz, Avishag Ginzburg, and Alon Ba-
rash for their useful comments.
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