Our ancient ancestor ‘Little Foot’ was a creature of the trees over 3 MILLION years ago

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Our ancient ancestor ‘Little Foot’ was a creature of the trees! New analysis of the humanoid’s shoulder reveals it hung from branches more than 3 MILLION years ago

  • Little Foot is a skeleton of our ancient ancestor who lived 3.67 million years ago
  • A new analysis of the creature’s shoulder assembly shows it has adapted to trees
  • Our ancestors hung from trees more than 3 million years ago
  • The finds also mean that the shoulder structural similarities between humans and African monkeys are much more recent than previously believed

A new analysis of the upper body of the famous fossil ‘Little Foot’, an almost complete skeleton of a hominid that lived 3.67 million years ago, reveals that she was a creature adapted to live in trees.

Scientists at the University of Southern California (USC) examined Little Foot’s shoulder structure and showed that the arms were well suited for hanging from branches and moving trees up and down – similar to those of monkeys.

The latest analysis “provides the best evidence yet of how human ancestors used their arms more than 3 million years ago,” said Kristian J. Carlson, lead author of the study.

The findings also suggest that the shoulder structural similarities between humans and African monkeys are much more recent and last much longer than previously thought.

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A new analysis of the upper body of the famous fossil 'Little Foot', an almost complete skeleton of a hominid that lived 3.67 million years ago, reveals that she was a creature adapted to live in trees.

A new analysis of the upper body of the famous fossil ‘Little Foot’, an almost complete skeleton of a hominid that lived 3.67 million years ago, reveals that she was a creature adapted to live in trees.

Discovered in South Africa in 1994, Little Foot has allowed scientists to travel back in time to learn more about human evolution.

“Little Foot is the Rosetta stone for early human ancestors,” Carlson said.

“When we compare the shoulder assembly with living humans and monkeys, it shows that Little Foot’s shoulder was probably a good model of the shoulder of the common ancestor of humans and other African apes such as chimpanzees and gorillas.”

The specimen is also very rare, as it is an almost complete skeleton of an Australopithecus individual much older than most other human ancestors.

Researchers used a high-resolution computed tomography (CT) to scan the fossil and transfer it to a digital image so that it can be deconstructive, allowing researchers to see every tiny piece of the shoulder component

Researchers used a high-resolution computed tomography (CT) to scan the fossil and transfer it to a digital image so that it can be deconstructive, allowing researchers to see every tiny piece of the shoulder component

Experts speculate that the creature was an old female about four feet tall with legs similar to modern humans that allowed bipedal movements.

For the final analysis, the team compared the creature’s shoulder assembly to monkeys, hominids, and humans.

Little Foot's shoulder construction shows that it has supported arms that are well suited for hanging from branches and moving trees up and down - similar to those of monkeys

Little Foot’s shoulder construction shows that it has supported arms that are well suited for hanging from branches and moving trees up and down – similar to those of monkeys

They used high-resolution computed tomography (CT) to scan the fossil and transfer it to a digital image so that it can be deconstructive so that researchers can see every little bit of the shoulder component.

And with that, the team concluded that Little Foot effortlessly slipped between trees for much of her time.

The chest girdle, the series of bones connected to the arms on each side, shows that she had the ability to hang from branches.

The scapula, or scapula, features a large, high rim for attaching heavy muscles, similar to gorillas and chimpanzees.

The shoulder joint, where the humerus joins, sits at an oblique angle, useful for stabilizing the body and reducing tensile loads on shoulder straps when a monkey hangs under branches.

The shoulder also has a sturdy, ape-like reinforcing structure called the ventral rod. And the collarbone has a distinctive S-shaped curve common in monkeys.

“We see irrefutable evidence in Little Foot that our ancestors’ arm was still used 3.67 million years ago to support substantial weight during tree movements to climb trees or hang under branches,” Carlson said.

“In fact, based on comparisons with living humans and monkeys, we propose that Little Foot’s shoulder morphology and function is a good model for that of the common ancestor of humans and chimpanzees 7 million to 8 million years ago.”

What is Little Foot?

In 2015, researchers analyzed 11 rock samples around the nearly complete Little Foot fossil skeleton from the Sterkfontein Caves to measure its age.

They found that the skeleton was about 3.6 million years old.

Little Foot, a member of the genus Australopithecus prometheus, lived about the same time as Australopithecus afarensis, the species whose most famous fossil, called Lucy, is from Ethiopia.

The skeleton dates back to 3.6 million years ago.  Its discovery is expected to help researchers better understand the appearance and movement of the human ancestor

The skeleton dates back to 3.6 million years ago. Its discovery is expected to help researchers better understand the appearance and movement of the human ancestor

The species was much taller and taller than Lucy’s, with gorilla-like features but fully erect and very strong with powerful hands for climbing.

Like Lucy, Little Foot was a woman.

Her hands had the same proportions as ours, with a long thumb and relatively short fingers and palm, in contrast to the elongated hands of modern apes.

Her legs were slightly longer than her arms, unlike modern monkeys.

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