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Ancient Toddlers Also Loved Climbing Trees

08 July 2018

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 full study, titled "A almost complete foot from Dikika, Ethiopia and its implications for the ontogeny and function of Australopithecus afarensis", is available to read online.

"For the first time, we have an awesome window into what walking was like for a two-and-a-half-year-old, more than 3 million years ago", said lead author Jeremy DeSilva, Associate Professor at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. "The Dikika foot adds to the wealth of knowledge on the mosaic nature of hominin skeletal evolution" explains Alemseged.

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.

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The fossil of the toddler's foot was the most intact piece of bone that has ever been unearthed from our distant past. This fossil, dated at 3.32 million years ago, comprises most of the skull and torso, as well as many parts of the limbs. 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. Selam would have been similar in size to a chimpanzee that was about the same age - which meant she also depended on her mother.

Although Lucy and Selam were found in the same area, Selam is not "Lucy's baby". However, findings also suggest that she was still spending time in the trees, foraging for food while clinging to her mother. That's an inference based on the fact there is no evidence of fire or construction for another million years in Africa, said DeSilva. 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. What's more, the toddler found in Dikika, Ethiopia, was probably better at climbing than her parents.

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.

They examined what the extremity would have been used for, how it developed, and what it tells us about human evolution (spoiler: our progenitors were "quite good" at walking upright).

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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.

Although skeletons like Selam and Lucy are incredibly important for anthropologists, they also show just how little scientists know about our ancestors.

"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".

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Ancient Toddlers Also Loved Climbing Trees