Our 3-Million-Year-Old Ancestors’ Children Were Walking, Climbing Trees

08 Juillet, 2018, 20:30 | Auteur: Therese Cote
  • Our 3-Million-Year-Old Ancestors’ Children Were Walking, Climbing Trees

It has been for a while since scientists were aware that the early ape-like hominid A. afarensis was part of our family tree, and walked on two feet.

The full study, titled "A almost complete foot from Dikika, Ethiopia and its implications for the ontogeny and function of Australopithecus afarensis", is available to read online.

"For the first time, we have an unbelievable window into what walking was like for a two-and-a-half-year-old, more than 3 million years ago", lead author Jeremy DeSilva, an associate professor of anthropology at Dartmouth College, said in a statement. "The Dikika foot adds to the wealth of knowledge on the mosaic nature of hominin skeletal evolution" explains Alemseged.

For reference, Lucy, the world's most famous fossil and another example of Australopithecus afarensis that lived 3.18 million years ago, was about 3½ feet tall and 60 pounds.

Although this 3.32-million-year-old fossil from Dikika, Ethiopia, was announced in a previous 2006 study, numerous skeleton's elements, including the partial foot known as DIK-1-1f, were encased in sediment and therefore had to be carefully uncovered. She belonged to the Australopithecus afarensis group of hominins, our distant relatives. But unlike the chimp's big toe, Selam's is in line with her other toes, similar to toes on a human foot. Later, Selam was found just a few miles away from Lucy and was then given the nickname "baby Lucy", despite being alive around 200,000 years before Lucy.

Selam's foot was later discovered in 2002 and is about 2 inches (5.5 centimeters) long - that's a little shorter than a sticky note.

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The toe most modern humans refer lovingly to as the "big toe" here looks ever-so-slightly different in Selam. As well as scaling trees, the ancient toddler's feet suggest she used to cling to her mother. What's more, the toddler found in Dikika, Ethiopia, was probably better at climbing than her parents.

The anatomy of Selam's foot was incredibly well-preserved, allowing the researchers to study how a toddler hominin would have walked.

Though it has already been established that A. afarensis adults were able to walk on two legs back in the day, not many studies have analyzed the anatomy of their children.

This evidence of increased mobility of the toe is an ape-like pattern that DeSilva et al. say is suggestive of a selective advantage of this trait and which offers new insights into the evolution of bipedality. She said Selam's foot is clearly adapted for walking on two feet and shows "how important life on the ground was for these animals, and that effective climbing was much less important".

The paleontologists managed to recover the whole skeleton of this primitive female toddler and started to study it to shed more light on the human evolution.

The fossil record shows that these ancient ancestors were adept at walking upright.

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