For the first time, scientists have figured out how the toddlers of humanity's earliest ancestors walked and climbed trees to escape from predators.
"For the first time, we have an fantastic 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.
Zeresenay Alemseged, paleontologist and professor of organismal biology and anatomy and the University of Chicago and senior author of the study added that "the morphology that you see in adults is the result of both their evolution through time and how they changed as they grew", which is why studying younger individuals is important.
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.
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.
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. Selam lived in the region of Ethiopia with about 3.3 million years ago and belonged to an early human species, one of our ancestors, scientifically known as the Australopithecus Afarensis. But Selam actually died more than 100,000 years before Lucy was even alive. He unearthed Selam's foot back in 2002. However, findings also suggest that she was still spending time in the trees, foraging for food while clinging to her mother.
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The toe most modern humans refer lovingly to as the "big toe" here looks ever-so-slightly different in Selam.
"If you were living in Africa 3 million years ago without fire, without structures, and without any means of defense, you'd better be able get up in a tree when the sun goes down", DeSilva said in a statement. What's more, the toddler found in Dikika, Ethiopia, was probably better at climbing than her parents.
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.
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.
"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". 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".
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