Evidence for bipedal locomotion allows archaeologists and paleontologists to trace the evolution of the earliest humans. What other evidence is brought to bear on the matter?

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        Human lineage is nothing but the fruit of evolution: our genealogical family tree demonstrates that our ancestors were in fact primates. The story of human evolution starts in Africa and dates back millions of years. Archaeologists and palaeontologists use the archaeological evidence obtained from these sites in order to provide us with a framework of the development of the human species.

        In 1871, Charles Darwin, the father of the theory of the process of evolution by natural selection, proposed that humans and apes have a common ancestor. Thanks to anatomical and molecular studies we now know that 98% of African chimpanzee DNA is identical to that of humans. However, this does not mean that chimpanzees are our ancestors. This might however imply that we share a common ancestor. During the mid-Miocene period, around 8 million years ago, different apes dominated most of the African continent which was covered in lush vegetation. As these apes abounded in the African forests, their bodies adapted to the environment, hence developing grasping toes and joint mobility in arms and shoulders. These features provided them with brilliant surviving tools. By 6 million years ago, the world started experiencing a climate change which transformed these lush forests into open woodland. While most apes were becoming extinct, some were adapting to these changes in the environment. One of the species that was to adapt to these changes was to become our ancestor.

Early hominids that branched off since the last common ancestor are identified on one of the following two criteria: 1) postorbital evidence of bipedality, or 2) dentition which resembles that of later humans rather than that of apes. Having said that, before 4 million years ago the story is not so clear-cut: although the journey from Sahelanthropus tchadensis to Ardipithecus ramidus does see a change in dentition, dentition which gradually starts to resemble that of humans as one can see the appearance of enamel and small canines as well as the eventual emergence of premolars with a single cusp. Eventually these early hominids also came down from the trees and started walking on two legs.

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Did bipedalism change the destiny of our ancestors? Our ancestors’ footsteps are enshrined in Laetoli, Tanzania, where one can find footsteps dating back to 3 500 000 years ago. These footsteps were identified as an australopithecine’s footsteps after finding a skeleton belonging to the same epoch. Indeed, the australopithecines slowly mastered bipedal locomotion, that which separated them from the other primates. Bipedal locomotion provided them with a more efficient way of travelling. Bipedalism also meant having two free hands  which enabled them to carry foods, to feed in an easier manner, to play, to put their hands in front of their eyes ...

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