Our early hominin ancestors, including their toddlers, could stand on two feet and walk upright, but also had several ape-like foot characteristics that could have aided in climbing trees, a study has found.
The research team looked at the foot of Selam, a young female Australopithecus afarensis, who was discovered in 2002 in Ethiopia.
"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", says lead author, Jeremy DeSilva, an associate professor of anthropology at Dartmouth College, who is one of the world's foremost authorities on the feet of our earliest ancestors.
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. 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.
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.
The fossil was identified as belonging to the same species as the Lucy fossil and is 3.32 million years old.
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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". 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. As well as scaling trees, the ancient toddler's feet suggest she used to cling to her mother.
"Every fossil gives us some bit of our past, [but] when you have a child skeleton, you can ask questions about growth and development-and what the life of a kid was like three million years ago", DeSilva told National Geographic. 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.
The anatomy of Selam's foot was incredibly well-preserved, allowing the researchers to study how a toddler hominin would have walked.
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.
"Walking on two legs is a hallmark of being human". 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 fossil record indicates that these ancient ancestors were quite good at walking on two legs.