Early humans first walked upright in the TREES and not on the ground as previously thought, study claims
- It’s long been thought humans became bipedal as they spent more time on land
- Shrinking tropical forests meant primates had to adapt movements to find food
- Study disputes this and suggests ancestors began to walk on two legs in trees
Human ancestors started to walk upright in trees rather than on the ground, a new study claims.
The long-held belief for why we walk upright today – also known as bipedalism – is that our ancestors were forced to come down from trees and spend more time on land.
This is because millions of years ago, shrinking tropical forests and expanding savannas meant primates had to adapt their movements to find food, it was thought.
But a new study disputes this argument – and suggests our ancestors began to walk on two legs up in the canopies first.
Human ancestors started to walk upright in trees rather than on the ground, a new study claims. Pictured: an adult male chimpanzee walks uprithg to navigate flexible brances in the Issa Valley savanna-mosaic habitat
The long-held belief for why we walk upright today – also known as bipedalism – is that our ancestors were forced to come down from trees and spend more time on land (artist’s impression)
A team from the University of Kent studied savanna chimpanzees in Issa, Tanzania, for 15 months.
They discovered the population actually spent more time upright while walking in trees compared with walking on the ground.
The findings, published in the journal Science Advances, also showed the chimps spent the same amount of time on two legs when in dense and scarce vegetation.
When they compared the findings with previous research involving chimpanzees who lived in a forest, they discovered close resemblance between their movements.
A team from the University of Kent studied savanna chimpanzees in Issa, Tanzania, for 15 months. They discovered the population actually spent more time upright while walking in trees compared with walking on the ground
Author Alexander Piel said: ‘Longheld theories on the evolution of bipedalism are themselves difficult to study due to limited fossil evidence.
‘The Issa chimpanzee community, however, provides us a closely related ape that lives in a habitat that very much resembles that within which humans evolved millions of years ago.
‘We investigated the behaviour of wild chimpanzees…and expected they would spend more time on the ground and exhibit bipedalism in open vegetation like woodlands where they cannot easily travel via the tree canopy.
‘What we found was enormously surprising.
‘Many of the traditional hypotheses about why we’re on two legs now stem from the advantages bipedalism afford our ancestor – for example seeing over tall grass or reduced sun exposure.
‘However, the Issa chimpanzees did the opposite – more bipedalism in the trees.
‘There are clear reasons why it’s beneficial, like reaching for fruit on higher branches.’
He added that walking upright while on the ground may be a secondary driver to the evolution of the behaviour.
‘That is, we evolved to be bipedal in the trees, and then perhaps it was catalysed once forests retreated and we were based almost entirely in more open habitats’, he said.
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TIMELINE OF HUMAN EVOLUTION
The timeline of human evolution can be traced back millions of years. Experts estimate that the family tree goes as such:
55 million years ago – First primitive primates evolve
15 million years ago – Hominidae (great apes) evolve from the ancestors of the gibbon
7 million years ago – First gorillas evolve. Later, chimp and human lineages diverge
5.5 million years ago – Ardipithecus, early ‘proto-human’ shares traits with chimps and gorillas
4 million years ago – Ape like early humans, the Australopithecines appeared. They had brains no larger than a chimpanzee’s but other more human like features
3.9-2.9 million years ago – Australoipithecus afarensis lived in Africa.
2.7 million years ago – Paranthropus, lived in woods and had massive jaws for chewing
2.6 million years ago – Hand axes become the first major technological innovation
2.3 million years ago – Homo habilis first thought to have appeared in Africa
1.85 million years ago – First ‘modern’ hand emerges
1.8 million years ago – Homo ergaster begins to appear in fossil record
800,000 years ago – Early humans control fire and create hearths. Brain size increases rapidly
400,000 years ago – Neanderthals first begin to appear and spread across Europe and Asia
300,000 to 200,000 years ago – Homo sapiens – modern humans – appear in Africa
54,000 to 40,000 years ago – Modern humans reach Europe
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