The morphology of the talus prescribes relative positions and movements of the calcaneus and navicular with respect to the tibia, hence determining the overall geometry, mobility and function of the foot that mechanically interacts with environments. Clarifying the variations of the articular surface orientations of the talus in humans and extant great apes is therefore of importance in understanding the evolution of bipedal locomotion in the human lineage. The aim of this study is to clarify the three-dimensional orientations of three articular surfaces of the talus (superior, posterior calcaneal and navicular articular surfaces) by means of the newly proposed surface approximation method. Thirty-two tali in humans, chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans were scanned using a three-dimensional noncontact digitizer, and the articular surfaces were then approximated using a paraboloid or a plane to calculate the orientations of the surfaces with respect to the body of the talus. The results quantitatively demonstrated that the superior articular surfaces in humans were relatively more parallel with the horizontal plane of the talar body, while those in apes were more medially oriented. Furthermore, the cylindrical axis defined by the shape of the posterior calcaneal articular surface was directed less anteroposteriorly in humans than in apes, in contrast to the fact that the subtalar axis is more anteroposteriorly oriented in humans. It was also demonstrated that the navicular articular surface in humans was more plantarly oriented and axially twisted. These specialized features of the human talus seem to be functionally linked to obligate bipedal locomotion. The talar morphological differences among the great apes were prominent in the mediolateral and rotational orientations of the navicular articular surfaces, possibly reflecting the degree of arboreality among the great apes.
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