Bipedalism – Were we first?
Walking on two leg has always defined hominins as an evolutionary group, and separated us from our ape ancestors. Recently however, that idea has been challenged by the discovery of the remains of an ancient ape named by scientists Danuviusguggenmosi. Judging from its skeletal remainsfrom several individuals found, he was able to walk on two legs long before hominins evolved on earth.
Danuviusguggenmosi was discovered this year in the Bavarian region of Germany in a clay pit. He lived 11.6 million years ago and the fossils show that although it possessed long arms adapted to hanging from trees and climbing, it’s spine suggests something else. The fossil remains of the vertebrae suggests it was capable of bipedal walking.
Up to now, researchers had the knowledge that a 4.4million year old hominin , Ardipithecus ramidus, was bipedal. There also exists evidence of other species aged between 6 and 7 million to have been bipedal. This new discovery of D. guggenmosi suggest that bipedalism evolved before the hominin branch of the evolutionary tree split from the branch of chimpanzees and bonobos. This split is dated to around 7 million years ago.
Palaeoanthropologist, Madelaine Boheme from the University of Tubingen in Germany, who co-led the research, claims that the research may pose a real problem in defining what is a hominin as one of and our ancestor’s key features has always been bipedalism.
The bones which in particular suggest that the D. guggenmosi walked on two feet are the vertebrae and leg bones. Some of the vertebrae show that the ape had a long and flexible lower back. This is crucial to walking upright because it allows to shift the weight of the upper body over the hips. The legs additionally support this theory because the knee and ankle bones contain weight-bearing adaptations able to support the full body weight of the ape on its legs. The strong hands and arms give us a picture of the ape’s ability to grab and hang from
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branches. This implies that the D. guggenmosi lived in trees and had a unique way of moving around. It walked on two legs but used its powerful upper body limbs to hang.
Some critics of the theoryargue that not enough spine fragments were found to unanimously conclude bipedalism and additionally it is very difficult to say with certainty how apes move just by studying bone. Furthermore the D. guggenmosi is much older than the first hominins. Therefore, an assumption that hominins are direct descendants of this new-found ape would be far-fetched. The research team has yet to conduct an evolutionary analysis to determine how or whether D. guggenmosi is related to humans. On the other hand this discovery is very significant because it suggests apes developed bipedalism more than once and also could give clues on what kinds of conditions encouraged apes to walk on two feet.
Adapted from Nature