Published: Sun, July 08, 2018
Research | By Jody Lindsey

Ancient 3-Year-Old Climbed Trees, Researchers Say

Ancient 3-Year-Old Climbed Trees, Researchers Say

Looking at her foot structure, researchers have now determined that Selam was adapted to be an exceptional climber, which meant that afarensis toddlers could walk upright but probably spent more time in trees like apes.

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. "But, walking poorly in a landscape full of predators is a recipe for extinction", said lead author on this study Jeremy DeSilva, associate professor of anthropology at Dartmouth College.

"Studying younger individuals is important because the morphology that you see in adults is the result of both their evolution through time and how they changed as they grew", Alemseged, senior author of the study, wrote in an email.

Header Image - The Dikika foot is one part of a partial skeleton of a 3.32 million-year-old skeleton of an Australopithecus afarensis child.

"Placed at a critical time and the cusp of being human, Australopithecus afarensis was more derived than Ardipithecus (a facultative biped) but not yet an obligate strider like Homo erectus".

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. But Selam actually died more than 100,000 years before Lucy was even alive.

Without so many amenities in those primitive times, many early humans especially weak toddlers had to climb trees and stay put so that predators remained away from them.

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Selam and Lucy would have stood up straight, with feet, knees and hips that are similar to ours.

The toe most modern humans refer lovingly to as the "big toe" here looks ever-so-slightly different in Selam.

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.

Millions of years ago, ancient humans had toddlers who not only walked in a bipedal manner but could climb trees. 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.

Their findings suggest that afarensis had human and ape-like traits based on their selective advantage, which also shows the "mosaic nature" behind the evolution of walking upright and skeletal evolution, Alemseged said.

"Most of the fossil record consists of adults-it is unusual to find fossilized remains of children, and these give us wonderful insight into growth and development in our ancestors". "We conclude from this, and from previous studies on the shoulders of the Dikika child that she would have been able to climb, and to also grasp onto her mother during travel".

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