The evolution of man: back to the trees?

Scientists have discovered new interesting clues in the spinal columns of the ancient ancestors of people, which show that their different subspecies moved in different ways depending on the environment. Published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology, the study of the hook-shaped processes of the vertebrae, which are responsible for the stabilization and direction of the spinal motion, evaluates their shape in six fossil hominids in comparison with modern human and 99 non-human primates in 20 genera. Using new morphometric methods, scientists discovered obvious differences between the hook-shaped processes of living primates, which usually live on trees, and those that do not live.

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New evidence reveals the striking differences between the vertebrae of all terrestrial types and the kinds of primates that swing and jump from branch to branch, and can help to understand how extinct hominid species moved in their environment. Fossil from East Africa, dated 3.5 million years ago and belonging to Australopithecus afarensis (Lucy species), and Homo erectus, dated 1.8 to 1.5 million years ago, correspond to the modern human in this respect, suggesting that these extinct hominids have learned to walk on the ground. In contrast, fossils from South Africa, belonging to the species of Australopithecus sediba hominids, showed processes that help in moving through trees.

As scientists say, although South African species, apparently, were not completely "torn off the ground," their hook-shaped processes show an adaptation to life on trees. Theoretically, if in the battle for survival the "right-browing man" won, we could also lead an above-ground lifestyle.

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