3 million-year-old toddler could climb trees, study says
08 July, 2018, 20:28 | Author: Kelly Sanders
A rare juvenile foot fossil of our early hominin ancestor, Australopithecus afarensis, exhibits several ape-like foot characteristics that could have aided in foot grasping for climbing trees, a new study shows.
. "For the first time, we have an incredible window into what walking was like for a two-and-a-half-year-old, more than 3 million years ago".
The evidence comes from DIK-1-1 - a relatively complete 3.3 million-year-old skeleton of a 2.5- to 3-year-old female Australopithecus afarensisdiscovered in Dikika, Ethiopia.
However, juvenile specimens of most human hominin ancestors are scarce, and thus, it has been hard to trace how important traits are selected in animals, over time.
Back in 2002, archaeologists discovered a almost complete human skeleton, which turned out to be remains of a female toddler who lived in East Africa three and half million years ago but died before reaching the age of four. In 2002, archaeologists discovered a well-preserved, partial skeleton of an infant A. afarensis, thought to be around 3-years-old at the time of death.
Although they could also use their ability of speed to escape predators, the report also said that the child, who was probably "similar in size to a chimpanzee of comparable age", would still have been entirely dependable on his or her parents and were "often actively carried by adults". However, findings also suggest that she was still spending time in the trees, foraging for food while clinging to her mother.
Unsurprisingly, this led to it being erroneously called "Lucy's baby" by the popular press - despite this toddler having been around 200,000 years before Lucy. "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", added DeSilva.
The toe most modern humans refer lovingly to as the "big toe" here looks ever-so-slightly different in Selam. "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".
DeSilva said his research also reveals the toddler would have been quite skilled at walking on two feet, based on the shape of the foot.
"Walking on two legs is a hallmark of being human, but walking poorly in a landscape full of predators is a recipe for extinction", DeSilva said.
Accordingly, the base of the big toe and the skeletal structure surrounding it suggests that vulnerable children spent more time in the trees than their adult carers. The new study supports many previous studies that the foot in A. afarensis was adapted for upright walking and was largely human-like.
Although skeletons like Selam and Lucy are incredibly important for anthropologists, they also show just how little scientists know about our ancestors.
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