PerspectiveAnthropology

Did Australopiths Climb Trees?

Science  26 Oct 2012:
Vol. 338, Issue 6106, pp. 478-479
DOI: 10.1126/science.1230128

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Summary

What was the lifestyle of early members of the human lineage, such as Australopithecus afarensis? All fossil australopith skeletons display a mix of humanlike and apelike characteristics, but their lower limb features leave little doubt that these early members of our lineage walked on two legs. However, this mixture is more difficult to interpret for the upper limb. Some investigators see the apelike upper-limb characteristics as an indication that an ability to climb trees continued to have survival value (14). Others suggest that these features were simply retentions from an ancestral condition (57). On page 514 of this issue, Green and Alemseged (8) weigh in on this debate with an analysis of the shoulder bones of a juvenile australopith who lived around 3.3 million years ago.