Thursday, 16 August, 2018

Skeleton shows pre-human toddlers hid in trees for protection

3 Million Years Ago, Toddler Could Walk Upright and Climb Trees Our Human Ancestors Walked on Two Feet but Their Children Still Had a Backup Plan
Sandra Phillips | 08 July, 2018, 20:31

For the first time, scientists have figured out how the toddlers of humanity's earliest ancestors walked and climbed trees to escape from predators.

"For the first time, we have an incredible window into what walking was like for a 2½-year-old, more than 3 million years ago", said Jeremy DeSilva, lead study author and an associate professor of anthropology at Dartmouth College, according to CNN.

In 2002, the co-author of this study, Zeresenay Alemseged, who is also a professor of organismal biology and anatomy at the University of Chicago, found the fossilized remains of an infant.

The tiny foot, about the size of a human thumb, is part of a almost complete 3.32-million-year-old skeleton of a young female Australopithecus afarensis discovered in 2002 in the Dikika region of Ethiopia by Zeresenay (Zeray) Alemseged, a professor of organismal biology and anatomy at the University of Chicago and senior author of the study.

The most complete foot of an ancient child discovered yet, this tiny clutch of bones no larger than a human thumb has shed light on the mysterious lives of our ancestors.

Image: The 3.3 million year old foot in different angles. On the other hand, the researchers discovered that Australopithecus Afarensis primitive humans possessed 12 pairs of ribs and thoracic vertebrae precisely as many as the modern humans. The scientists noticed that Selam's big toe was curved, similarly to the feet anatomy of monkeys, such as chimpanzees or orangutans, among others.

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Although Lucy and Selam were found in the same area, Selam is not "Lucy's baby". This attribute could have allowed them to cling to their mothers, climb trees and outsmart predators.

"If you were living in Africa 3 million years ago without fire, without structures, and without any means of defense, you'd better be able get up in a tree when the sun goes down", DeSilva said in a statement. "We think that this helps explain the differences we see between the bones of the Dikika toddler and the more human-like bones of the adults".

The group took a close look at the rare toddler skeleton, named Selam, and noted signs of ape-like features on its foot.

Over 3 million years ago, our ancient ancestors and their toddlers were standing on two feet and walking upright, it has been revealed. They found the big toe was more capable of moving side-to-side than skeletons of similar adult feet, meaning it would be better at climbing through branches and latching onto its mother.

This evidence of increased mobility of the toe is an ape-like pattern that is suggestive of a selective advantage of this trait and which offers new insights into the evolution of bipedality, the researchers said. The new study supports many previous studies that the foot in A. afarensis was adapted for upright walking and was largely human-like.

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