Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Humans Evolved From Tree Climbers

A research from Duke University by Daniel Schmitt, associate professor of evolutionary anthropology, and Tracy Kivell, a post-doctoral research associate, shows that human evolved from tree climbing ancestors, not from knuckle-walkers. Schmitt and Kivell examined and compared the wrist bones of humans and African apes. Their research, "Independent evolution of knuckle-walking in African apes shows that humans did not evolve from a knuckle-walking ancestor", was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on August 10th, 2009.

They also found that knuckle walking evolved at least two different times; gorillas fundamentally knuckle walk differently than chimpanzees and bonobos.

Kivell and Schmitt think this suggests independent evolution of knuckle-walking behavior in the two African ape lineages.

Some scientists point to features in the human anatomy as our own vestiges of a knuckle-walking ancestry. One notable example is the fusion a two wrist bones that could provide us extra stability, a feature we share with gorillas, chimps and bonobos.

But some lemurs have that feature too, and they do a variety of different movements in the trees but do not knuckle-walk, Kivell said.

Altogether, the evidence leans against the idea that our own bipedalism evolved from a knuckle-walking ancestor, the pair wrote. "Instead, our data support the opposite notion, that features of the hand and wrist found in the human fossil record that have traditionally been treated as indicators of knuckle-walking behavior in general are in fact evidence of arboreality."

In other words, a long-ago ancestor species that spent its time in the trees moved to the ground and began walking upright.

There are no fossils from the time of this transition, which likely occurred about seven million years ago, Kivell and Schmitt said. But none of the later fossils considered to be on the direct human line were knuckle-walkers.

Read more on Science Daily: Bipedal Humans Came Down From The Trees, Not Up From The Ground

1 comment:

Marcel F. Williams said...

Knuckle walking also appears to have evolved in the Miocene primate Equatorius (Kenyapithecus); so it appears to have evolved at least 3 times. Humans also have reduced hair on the dorsal surface of the fingers which suggest some knuckle-walking ancestry in hominin evolution-- before the emergence of bipedalism. It should be noted that Orangs are fist walkers when they come down to the surface.

Since the phalanges of hominoids are naturally curved, this may predispose apes to knuckle-walking and fist walking under more terrestrial conditions.