September 23, 2018

Foot fossil of juvenile hominin exhibits ape-like features

08 July 2018, 08:29 | Edward Lowe

Image The foot is one part of a partial skeleton of an Australopithecus afarensis child. Pic Zeray Alemseged

The foot is one part of a partial skeleton of an Australopithecus afarensis child. Pic Zeray Alemseged

The research found that the toddler-aged A.afarensis were capable of standing and walking upright on their two feet, and surprisingly, also capable of climbing trees adeptly.

Her almost complete skeleton was discovered in the Dikika region of Ethiopia in 2002 by Zeresenay Alemseged, paleontologist and professor of organismal biology and anatomy and the University of Chicago.

"For the first time, we have an incredible window into what walking was like for a two-and-a-half-year-old, more than three million years ago", said the study's lead author, Dr Jeremy DeSilva.

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.

This research has shed a lot of light on how three and a half-year-old toddlers lived 3 million years ago in the past.

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Selam is a member of the Australopithecus afarensis species-an extinct hominin thought to be an ancestor of our own genus, Homo, or possibly a close ancestral relative.

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.

The fossil was identified as belonging to the same species as the Lucy fossil and is 3.32 million years old. Selam would have been similar in size to a chimpanzee that was about the same age - which meant she also depended on her mother. But Selam actually died more than 100,000 years before Lucy was even alive. As well as scaling trees, the ancient toddler's feet suggest she used to cling to her mother. UPDATE: I take it back - look at the included photos of the foot above and below and decide for yourselves how similar it looks to any foot you've seen before.

Bridging the gap between humans and chimps, Lucy had slightly curved fingers and toes, with mobile ankles and shoulders that provided more overhead range of movement.

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

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But when researchers analyzed the skeletal structure of Selam's foot, they noticed that the base of the big toe would have allowed her to be a great climber.

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.

"Walking on two legs is a hallmark of being human".

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.

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

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