Fossilized ankle bone suggests human ancestor could jump great distances

While many think the species spent most of its times in the trees, there has been a lot of debate on how it moved around. Most scientists believe the animals moved in the same way as humans, monkeys, lemurs, and apes.
By Dan Taylor | Sep 13, 2017
New analysis on a 52-million-year-old ankle fossil suggests our primate ancestors could leap great distances,according to a new studypublished in the Journal of Human Evolution.

Researchers first found the tiny fossil -- which is part of an ankle joint -- over 30 years ago in a quarry in south-eastern France. However, it has not been looked at until a team of international researchers studied it for the recent research. Their new analysis revealed the bone belonged to an animal known as Donrussellia provincialis -- an early human ancestor which many believe to be one of the earliest primates on Earth.

While many think the species spent most of its times in the trees, there has been a lot of debate on how it moved around. Most scientists believe the animals moved in the same way as humans, monkeys, lemurs, and apes. That is, they were likely slow creatures that used grasping hands and feet to climb across small branches.

However, the new study reveals that may not be the case.

To get a better look at the primates, researchers created 3-D scans of the ankle bone and then used computer algorithms to compare it to the joints of other animal species. This showed that Donrussellia's ankle is much more like a tree shrew's ankle than a primate's.As a result, the team believes Donrussellia did not slowly move through branches as previously believed. Rather, it would have been able to leap great distances and jump from tree to tree.

"Being able to jump from one tree to another might have been important, especially if there were ground predators around waiting to snag them," explained lead author Doug Boyer, a researcher atat Duke University, according toInternational Business Times.

This new evidence is important because it could suggest primates evolved leaping abilities before any anatomical changes. If that is true, it may change how scientists think about early primate evolution and will lead to new studies about the way such abilities came about.

"It's easy to understand how specialization for navigating small branches would be beneficial, specifically for harvesting food objects that grow there," explained Boyer, according to New Scientist. "It's hard to think of a simple scenario that would emphasize acrobatic leaping on its own."

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