Story at a glance

  • Through the study of fossils, archaeologists are learning more about evolution and how the human body has changed over time.
  • Humans have evolved to walk on two feet, a trait that separates us from chimpanzees and bonobos, but this wasn’t always the case.
  • A new find suggests that the ancestors of humans may have swung from trees, using their arms to travel longer distances, rather than their legs.

Standing upright isn't natural. Humans have evolved to walk on two feet, a trait that separates us from chimpanzees and bonobos, but this wasn’t always the case. Now, scientists have discovered a link between people today and their four-legged ancestors: a fossilized skeleton called “Little Foot.”

Looking at the shoulder joint of "Little Foot," who lived about 3.67 million years ago and was discovered in South Africa in 1994, scientists have concluded that this ancestor likely swung from trees as easily as they walked, according to findings published in the Journal of Human Evolution.


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“By understanding how the shoulder joints of early hominins are structured, and more broadly how their shoulder blades are capable of moving on their torsos, we can understand how they used their upper limbs while interacting with the environment,” said Kristian Carlson, a biological anthropologist at the University of Southern California and lead author of the new paper, in an email to Gizmodo. “This is a crucial question during this period of our evolutionary history.”

Of course, it's not clear whether this was a common trait or whether Little Foot was just a particularly gifted individual, but researchers hope to find more evidence to put these findings in context. Still, the next time you pass by a park, try those “monkey bars” and see if you can channel your ancient ancestor. 


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Published on Apr 22, 2021