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Skeleton shows pre-human toddlers hid in trees for protection

08 July 2018

"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".

Only three years old when she died, Selam was already bipedal.

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. Selam used her adaptable feet to scamper up into the trees when under threat, researchers suggested in a study published in the journal Science Advances. But the new paper wrote by lead author Jeremy DeSilva (Dartmouth College) suggests that children could stand, walk upright and even climb trees. "This is the most complete foot of an ancient juvenile ever discovered". "The Dikika foot adds to the wealth of knowledge on the mosaic nature of hominin skeletal evolution" explained Alemseged. But there are ape-like features about afarensis, as well.

According to CNN, Selam was similar in size to a chimpanzee and depended on her mother for survival.

The 3.32 million-year-old Australopithecus afarensis foot from Dikika, Ethiopia, superimposed over a footprint from a human toddler. A 2016 study of what might have caused her death estimates that she was 15 or 16 years old. Selam lived more than 200,000 years before Lucy. Trees provided safety, whether escaping a predator or nesting at night. Based on data on the nesting habits of chimps, researchers estimate that an average of 46 feet above the ground made them feel safe.

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"If you were living in Africa 3 million years ago without fire, without structures, and without any means of defence, you'd better be able get up in a tree when the sun goes down", adds DeSilva. He unearthed Selam's foot back in 2002.

Over 3 million years ago, our ancient ancestors and their toddlers were standing on two feet and walking upright, it has been revealed. At 2½ years old, Selam would've been walking on two legs. 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. For example, the researchers "argue that the arch is low and perhaps flat in this individual, and I think they're probably correct, but it has to be taken with a bit of salt", he said.

This evidence of increased mobility of the toe is an ape-like pattern that DeSilva et al. say is suggestive of a selective advantage of this trait and which offers new insights into the evolution of bipedality.

Although skeletons like Selam and Lucy are incredibly important for anthropologists, they also show just how little scientists know about our ancestors. Shoulder blades are an incredibly rare find because they're delicate, nearly paper thin, and don't usually fossilize.

"Understanding if climbing was part of a species' adaptation and to what extent are crucial", Alemseged said.

Skeleton shows pre-human toddlers hid in trees for protection