3.3 Million-Year-Old Fossil Shows That Even Ancient Toddlers Climbed Trees

child up in the tree

A recent finding suggests that children more than 3.3 million years ago loved climbing trees just as much as kids these days do, although the reasons for it may have been different.

In a recent report, researchers have commented on the fossil of a female toddler named Selam, who they deemed to be younger than 3 years old. The fossil was first discovered in Ethiopia in 2002 and over the years excavators have been busy carefully extracting her skeleton, that was encased in millions of years old sediment, CNN reports.

Most recently Selam's foot was studied, giving researchers a look into what life was like for a toddler so many years ago.

"For the first time, we have an amazing window into what walking was like for a 2½-year-old, more than 3 million years ago," Jeremy DeSilva, lead study author and an associate professor of anthropology at Dartmouth College, said in a statement. "This is the most complete foot of an ancient juvenile ever discovered."

The finding of the foot shows that children 3.3 million years ago, while looking wildly different than children who have evolved look today, acted similarly. They ran and played with other children, but the bone structure in their feet allowed them to cling to their mothers, like apes, and quickly climb trees, USA Today writes.

child in the trees
Credit: iStock / Alina Demidenko

While children today climb trees for fun and adventure, ancient toddlers did so more out of a means of survival.

"If you were living in Africa 3 million years ago without fire, without structures, and without any means of defense, you'd better be able get up in a tree when the sun goes down," DeSilva said in a statement.

Researchers discovered that while Selam was walking on two feet at the age of 2 and a half, the structure of her foot was different than the structure of a toddler foot now, with the base of her big toe allowing her to be a great climber.

"Upright walking is the hallmark of our lineage," DeSilva said.

"For me the surprise was finding features that are ape-like in an otherwise human-like foot," Zeresenay Alemseged, paleontologist and professor of organismal biology and anatomy and the University of Chicago and senior author of the study wrote.

Alemseged also said the rare find of the youth fossil, especially so well preserved, was definitely something to be excited about.

"Studying younger individuals is important because the morphology that you see in adults is the result of both their evolution through time and how they changed as they grew."

Like current children and adults, the discovery of Selam's foot shows researchers that even 3.3 million years ago children were more likely to spend time playing and climbing trees while adults were more prone to spending time on the ground.

"This fossil is just wealth of information. It's being able to address growth and development questions and questions about behavior in these kids in this time," DeSilva said.

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