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(Credit: © timur1970 / Fotolia) (Africa) 14 December 2012 New research by a University of Alberta archeologist may lead to a rethinking of how, when and from where our ancestors left Africa.
Researchers involved in a new study led by Oxford University have found that between three million and 3.5 million years ago, the diet of our very early ancestors in central Africa is likely to have consisted mainly of tropical grasses and sedges.
The implications for our possible early human ancestors, such as the species Australopithecus afarensis, are significant.
"Australopithecus afarensis possessed a rigid ankle and an arched, nongrasping foot," wrote Dominy and his co-authors in the report published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
Recent research at Olduvai has focused primarily on earlier beds, so research on these later beds will likely present new data to consider.
Four key previously excavated sites will be investigated through full-scale excavation.
The findings are published in the early online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The findings have implications for some of our earliest possible ancestors, including the 3.5 million-year-old species Australopithecus afarensis, thought by many scientists to be the first known possible human predecessor to have forsaken arboreal life in the trees and live a life walking upright (bipedalism) on the ground.
GFDL CC-BY-SA, Wikimedia Commons A handaxe from Olduvai Gorge, over 1 million years old.
This stone tool is most often associated with Homo erectus, a hominin considered by many scientists to be a possible human (Homo) ancestor.
"These traits are widely interpreted as being functionally incompatible with climbing and thus definitive markers of terrestriality." But now, the research shows that bone structure alone is not an indisputable indicator that an ancient hominid was exclusively terrestrial.
Australopithecus afarensis is an extinct hominid that lived between 3.9 and 2.9 million years ago.
"These results suggest that habitual climbing by Twa and Agta men changes the muscle architecture associated with ankle dorsiflexion," wrote the authors of the study.