3 million-year-old skull reveals new info about Australopithecus

Hyperaxion Mar 18, 2020

Analyzing the “Little Foot” fossil, researchers found that these hominids moved their heads differently from humans – more like chimpanzees.

Researchers at Wits University in South Africa have announced one of the most impressive findings of Australopithecus, hominids that lived 3 million years ago. The study, which was based on the Little Foot fossil, was published last Monday (16), in the scientific journal Scientific Reports.

3 million-year-old skull reveals new information about Australopithecus
Little Foot: 3 million-year-old skull brings new information about Australipithecus. (Credit: University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg).

Analysis of the Little Foot’s skull reveals what the species’ first cervical vertebra was like. This part of the spine is also known as the “atlas” and plays a crucial role in the biology of vertebrates: in addition to connecting the head and neck, it acts in the distribution of blood to the brain via the vertebral arteries.

By comparing the Little Foot atlas with that of other fossils in Africa, as well as with living humans and chimpanzees, South African scientists concluded that Australopithecians moved their heads differently than humans. “This can be explained by the greater ability of Australopithecans to climb and move in the trees”, suggests Amélie Beaudet, the study’s main author, in a note.

The size and shape of Little Foot’s first cervical vertebra, according to the study, are similar to those of chimpanzees. The authors believe that blood flow and, therefore, the use of glucose by the brain, was three times lower in Australopithecus than in humans. “This may suggest that the vascular system of the human brain emerged much later in our history,” says Beaudet.

According to the researcher, the new finding allows more studies to be carried out to investigate how head mobility evolved, as well as the development of our brain over time.

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