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Did Lucy walk, climb, or both?
Date:12/31/2012

earch fellowships.

The studies in Uganda compared Twa hunter-gatherers to their agriculturalist neighbors, the Bakiga. In the Philippines, the researchers studied Agta hunter-gatherers and Manobo agriculturalists. Both the Twa and the Agta habitually climb trees in pursuit of honey, a highly nutritious component of their diets. They climb in a fashion that has been described as "walking" up small-diameter trees. The climbers apply the soles of their feet directly to the trunk and "walk" upward, with their arms and legs advancing alternately.

Among the climbers, Dominy and his team documented extreme dorsiflexionbending the foot upward toward the shin to an extraordinary degree beyond the range of modern "industrialized" humans. Assuming their leg bones and ankle joints were normal, "we hypothesized that a soft-tissue mechanism might enable such extreme dorsiflexion," the authors write.

They tested their hypothesis using ultrasound imaging to measure and compare the lengths of gastrocnemius muscle fibersthe large calf musclesin all four groupsthe Agta, Manobo, Twa and Bakiga. The climbing Agta and Twa were found to have significantly longer muscle fibers.

"These results suggest that habitual climbing by Twa and Agta men changes the muscle architecture associated with ankle dorsiflexion," write the scientists, demonstrating that a terrestrially adapted foot and ankle do not exclude climbing from the behavioral repertoire of human hunter- gatherers, or Lucy.

In their conclusions, the Dartmouth team highlights the value of modern humans as models for studying the anatomical correlates of behavior, both in the present and in the dim past of our fossil ancestors.


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Contact: John Cramer
John.D.Cramer@dartmouth.edu
603-646-9130
Dartmouth College
Source:Eurekalert  

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