The study claims that early humans first walked upright in TREES and not on the ground as previously thought
- It has long been believed that humans became bipedal because they spent more time on the ground
- Shrinking tropical forests meant that primates had to adapt their movements to find food
- The study disputes this and suggests that the ancestors started out with bipedal walking on trees
A new study claims that human ancestors started walking upright in trees instead of on the ground.
The long-held belief why we walk upright today—also known as bipedalism—is that our ancestors were forced to get down from trees and spend more time on the ground.
It was thought that millions of years ago, shrinking tropical forests and expanding savannas meant that primates had to adapt their movements to find food.
But a new study disputes that argument — and suggests that our ancestors started walking on two legs in canopies first.
A new study claims that human ancestors started walking upright in trees instead of on the ground. Pictured: an adult male chimpanzee walks uphill to navigate flexible branches in the savannah and mosaic habitat of Wadi Isa
The long held belief why we walk upright today – also known as bipedalism – is that our ancestors were forced to get down from trees and spend more time on the ground (artist’s impression)
A team from the University of Kent studied savanna chimpanzees in Issa, Tanzania, for 15 months.
They discovered that residents spent more time walking in trees than on the ground.
The results, which were published in the journal Science Advances, also showed that chimpanzees spend the same amount of time on two feet when in dense, sparse vegetation.
When they compared the results to previous research involving chimpanzees who lived in a forest, they discovered a close similarity between their movements.
A team from the University of Kent studied savanna chimpanzees in Issa, Tanzania, for 15 months. They discovered that residents spent more time walking in trees than on the ground
‘Old theories about the evolution of bipedalism are difficult to study because of the limited fossil evidence,’ said author Alexander Bell.
However, the Issa chimpanzee community provides us with a closely related ape that lives in a habitat much like the one in which humans evolved millions of years ago.
We investigated the behavior of wild chimpanzees…we expected them to spend more time on the ground and exhibit bipedalism in open vegetation such as forests where they cannot travel as easily through the tree canopy.
What we found was very surprising.
Many of the traditional hypotheses about why we stand on two legs now stem from the advantages that bipedalism provided our ancestors – for example seeing tall grass or reduced exposure to the sun.
However, Issa’s chimpanzees did the opposite – more bipedalism in trees.
“There are obvious reasons for its usefulness, like eating the fruit on the higher branches.”
He added that walking upright on the ground may be a secondary driver of behavioral evolution.
“That is, we evolved to be bipedal in the trees, and then it may have been induced once the forests retreated and we were stationed almost entirely in more open habitats,” he said.
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Timeline of human evolution
The human evolution timeline can be traced back millions of years. Experts estimate that a family tree goes something like this:
55 million years ago The first primitive primates to evolve
15 million years ago Hominidae (great apes) evolved from the ancestors of the gibbon
7 million years ago – Evolution of the first gorilla. Later, the lineages of chimpanzees and humans diverge
5.5 million years ago – Ardipithecus, an early ‘Neanderthal’ that shares traits with chimpanzees and gorillas
4 million years ago – Ape Like the first humans, the Australopithecines appeared. They did not have brains larger than those of chimpanzees, but other, more human-like brains
3.9-2.9 million years ago Australopithecus afarensis lived in Africa.
2.7 million years ago Paranthropus lived in the woods and had large jaws for chewing
2.6 million years ago Hand axes became the first major technological innovation
2.3 million years ago It is believed that Homo habilis first appeared in Africa
1.85 million years ago – The appearance of the first “modern” hand
1.8 million years ago Homo ergaster begins to appear in the fossil record
800,000 years ago Early humans controlled fire and created hearths. Brain volume increases rapidly
400,000 yearsa – Neanderthals first begin to appear and spread throughout Europe and Asia
300,000 to 200,000 years ago – Homo sapiens – modern man – appears in Africa
54,000 to 40,000 years ago The arrival of modern humans in Europe
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