"The earth is full of skeleton bones"
Bayard Taylor



This is an introductory lab course in primate skeletal anatomy. There are approximately two hundred currently recognized species of primate, all sharing some key primate skeletal adaptations, and yet each unique in its own way. The focus of this class is the exploration of the striking similarities and fascinating differences of the 200+ bones that comprise the typical primate skeleton. It is the skeleton that provides a flexible framework for mobile bodies, protects inner organs and serves a variety of other essential functions that sustain life. As such, these bones are the foundation for our understanding of inter- and intra--family contrasts within the Primate Order, both behavioral and phylogenetic.

The class is taught as a relaxed lab in which students, working in teams, learn by active examination of the material. At appropriate junctures lectures will complement this process.

The course is divided into five parts. The first section provides a foundation for the analyses that follow. After reviewing mammalian trends, primate trends and primate taxonomy, students will learn the basics of anatomical terminology, orientation, and bone histology. The second part initiates the hands-on investigation of the skeleton as we focus on the skull. The study of the bones and anatomical landmarks of the primate skull will be complemented by exploration of cranial musculature and sensory adaptations in primates, e.g., auditory, olfactory, visual, etc. (the last of these being of particular importance in the evolutionary development and distinction of the primates).

The next phase of the course focuses on primate dentition. As diet is recognized as the single most important parameter underlying the social and ecological differences among extant and fossil primates, the study of dentition is critical to both behaviorists and paleoanthropologists. After exploring the basics of dentition and the muscles of mastication, students will investigate the range of diversity among folivores, frugivores, faunivores, gummivores and gramnivores across the major taxonomic divisions. Analysis of the postcranial skeleton is the focus of the fourth section of the course. Our inquiry will follow the classical approach as students learn the bones and anatomical landmarks of the axial skeleton (vertebrae and ribs), upper limbs and lower limbs. Particular attention will be given to variability in postcranial form as a basis for comparisons in the final section of the course. The last phase affords students the opportunity to synthesize their studies as they analyze the array of locomotor strategies in the primates (vertical clingers and leapers, arboreal and terrestrial quadrupeds, semi-brachiators, brachiators, knuckle walkers, etc.). Depending on time, we will also consider concomitant issues across the order including sexual dimorphism and growth.

Prerequisites: V1010, V1011 or instructor permission. Students who are interested in the class who haven't taken either course are welcome to speak with the instructor (jss19@columbia.edu).


Course Outline

Part I: Anatomical Foundation
Primates as Mammals and Overview of Primate
  Taxonomy and Primate Trends
Anatomical Positions and Orientations
The Basics of Bone Histology

Part II: The Primate Skull
Introduction to the Skull
Bones of the Skull, Internal and External Landmarks
Functional Aspects of the Skull--Organs of Hearing and
  Taste, Olfaction and Vision
General Contrasts in Skull Form Across the Primate
  Order: Strepsirhines, Platyrrhines, Catarrhines

Part III: Primate Dentition
Basics of Primate Dentition and the Muscles of
Additional Leves of Complexity in the Study of
  Tooth Morphology
Exploring Dental Variability Across the Primate Order:
  Contrasts by Diet and by Taxon: Strepsirhines, Tarsiers,
  Platyrrhines, Cercopithecoids and Hominoids Examined

Part IV: The Primate Postcranial Skeleton
Introduction to the Postcranial Skeleton and
  Positional Behavior
Bones and Landmarks of the Axial Skeleton:
  Vertebra and Ribs
Bones and Landmarks of the Appendicular Skeleton:  Pectoral Girdle, Arms and Hands
  Pelvic Girdle, Legs and Feet

Part V: Contrasts and Comparisons
Comparative Locomotor Anatomy: From Arboreal
  Quadrupeds to Knuckle-Walkers and Climbers
Contrasts and Comparisons
Summary Statements and Team Analyses
If There is Time:
Sexual Dimorphism and the Primate Skeleton
Growth and Development of the Primate Skeleton