Proconsul heseloni distal radial and ulnar epiphyses from the Kaswanga Primate Site, Rusinga Island, Kenya.
Only two distal epiphyses of a radius and ulna are consensually attributed to the holotype skeleton of Proconsul heseloni, KNM-RU 2036. Here, we describe seven adult and immature distal antebrachial (radial and ulnar) epiphyses from two other individuals of P. heseloni from the Lower Miocene deposits of the Kaswanga Primate Site (KPS), Rusinga Island, Kenya. Because KNM-RU 2036 and KNM-KPS individuals III and VIII are conspecific and penecontemporaneous, their comparison provides the opportunity i) to characterize, for the first time, the morphological variation of the distal radioulnar joint in a Miocene ape, P. heseloni, and ii) to investigate the functional and evolutionary implications. Our results show that the distal antebrachial epiphyses of KNM-KPS III and VIII correspond to stages of bone maturation that are more advanced than those of KNM-RU 2036 (larger articulations and sharper articular borders and ligament attachments that are more developed). Accordingly, functional interpretations based solely on the skeleton of KNM-RU 2036 have involved an underestimation of the forearm rotation abilities of P. heseloni. In particular, the KPS fossils do not exhibit the primitive morphology of distal radioulnar syndesmosis, as those of KNM-RU 2036 and most nonhominoid primates, but rather the morphology of an incipient diarthrosis (as in extant lorisines and hominoids). The distal radioulnar diarthrosis permits more mobility and maintenance of the wrist during repeated and slow rotation of the forearms, which facilitates any form of quadrupedal locomotion on discontinuous and variably oriented supports. By providing the oldest evidence of a distal radioulnar joint in an early Miocene hominoid, the main conclusions of this study are consistent with the role of cautious climbing as a prerequisite step for the emergence of positional adaptations in apes.