Last updated July 5, 2018 at 4:35 pm
Children had the option to seek safety.
Our ancient human ancestors were walking upright on two legs more than three million years ago, but their kids likely still chose to spend a bit of time in the trees.
Researchers from the UK and the US have drawn these conclusions after studying the tiny foot from the skeleton of a 2½-year-old female Australopithecus afarensis discovered in 2002 in the Dikika region of Ethiopia.
Lead author Jeremy DeSilva, an associate professor of anthropology at Dartmouth College, says the child was already walking on two legs but there are hints in the fossil foot that she was still spending time in the trees, hanging onto her mother as she foraged for food.
Based on the skeletal structure of the child’s foot – specifically the base of the big toe – he suspects children spent more time in the trees than adults.
“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,” he said.
The foot is only about the size of a human thumb, but DeSilva says it is the most complete foot of an ancient juvenile ever discovered.
The skeleton was found by palaeontologist Professor Zeresenay Alemseged from the University of Chicago, who said the latest findings were critical for understanding the dietary and ecological adaptation of the species and consistent with previous research on other parts of the skeleton, especially the shoulder blade.
The paper published in Science Advances.