There is a commonly held naïve belief concerning human evolution: the quadrupedal animals began to was standing up, liberating 2 of their limbs native the task of locomotion, thus creating two hands because that manipulating objects, resulting ultimately in skilled tool use and also cerebral enlargement. This is not correct in terms of primate evolution. The correct translate is together follows. The typical ancestors of every mammals today were tiny terrestrial mammals with 4 legs. The mutual ancestor that primates moved right into the treetops and developed four hands from the four feet possessed by the terrestrial ancestor. This to be an adaptation to arboreal life; enabling the efficient grasping the branches and also tree-trunks. Subsequently, beforehand human ancestors left the tree to begin walking long distances throughout the land, bipedally. Thus, we produced two feet from 4 hands throughout the course of development from our early primate ancestor.

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Gen Suwa that the university of Tokyo and also his colleagues newly reported the exploration of a fossil record of the ancestral type of gorillas (Katoh et al. 2016). They supplied various techniques to identify the geological age of the fossil and also reported the it is around 8 million year old. This allowed them to calculation that the split between the gorilla and also human-chimpanzee lineage likely occurred about 10 million year ago; this is earlier than formerly thought. Allow us consider human development by looking at what we typical by a “foot” and a “hand”.

Ardipithecus ramidus fossils (White et al. 2009), found in the Afar Rift, Ethiopia, were developed 4.4 million year ago. The most spectacular team of specimens represents part of one complete skeleton. This finds assisted clarify the evolution of early on hominids, with ramifications for understanding the development of today’s afri apes. The feet of A. Ramidus suggest this types climbed tree somewhat favor chimpanzees, yet not entirely. People apparently provided the totality flat of their foot when traversing vegetation, and, as soon as necessary, climbed cautiously making use of a path of bipedal locomotion that stood for a precursor to the complete terrestriality that Australopithecus.

Between 2 and also 4 million year ago, Australopithcus spp., consisting of affarensis and also africanus, occupied parts of east Africa. The Australopithecus affarensis specimen called Lucy constitutes about 40 % of an entire female skeleton, but very tiny remains that the feet. Various other fossil evidence, however, shows that the varieties exhibited bipedal locomotion.

My focus is ~ above the examine of chimpanzees, both in the wild (Matsuzawa et al. 2011) and also in the activities (Matsuzawa et al. 2006), through the aim to far better understand what us share through chimpanzees and also what is unique to humans. Ns was mindful that primates have feet that resemble hand in appearance and also shape (Fig. 1). Ns wished to visit paleoanthropological web page to allow me to snapshot the life led by the earliest human ancestors. In the summer of 2008, ns was presented with the chance to visit together a website in Kenya, thanks to mine ex-student Susana Carvalho, a doctoral graduate the the university of Cambridge and now an associate professor in palaeoanthropology at the university of Oxford, having contributed to founding the self-control of primate archaeology. We travelled together to watch the digging survey being brought out by an international team at Ileret, Kenya, led through Jack Harris that Rutgers University.

Fig. 1


Foot that a chimpanzee, Cleo, showing the similarities to person hands (photo: Tetsuro Matsuzawa)

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The excavation website is ~ above the East shore of Lake Turkana. The climate was an extremely hot and also dry throughout our visit. Fossil skulls and also bones the various varieties were scattered across the desiccated ground resembling a stereotypical desert. I found it most exciting to check out that the fossilized elephant teeth more closely resembled those of oriental rather than African elephants. The worldwide team was focusing on a geological layer formed 1.52 million years ago. There to be footprints the various varieties preserved within this layer. I had actually the possibility to compare my foot directly to a fossilized hominid footprint (Fig. 2). In ~ a glance, they appear very comparable in size and shape. The fossilized footprint shows us that the feet the this hominid were close to those of contemporary humans, and different native those of chimpanzees.


Hominid footprint developed 1.5 million years ago, in Ileret, east coast of Lake Turkana, Kenya, pictured together the foot of the author (photo: Tetsuro Matsuzawa)

The international team (Bennett et al. 2009) supplied a unique apparatus, using the have fun of laser beams, to specifically measure the depth the the footprint. Fossilized footprints can tell united state not only around the shape of hominid feet, but also about the way in which lock walked. The team found the oldest instance of foot morphology extensively resembling ours own. The scientists uncovered that the footprints in ~ Ileret suitable what would be meant from height and also weight estimates for Homo ergaster/erectus, and were various in shape to footprints made by Australopithecus at Laetoli, Tanzania. The Ileret footprints suggest that the foot morphology had already evolved far from the of the typical primate ancestor, with a larger range of movement and also an opposable huge toe, towards a form far better suited to an ext efficient advertise off when walking along the ground, v the large toe parallel to the various other toes and also the foot arched. This suggests that by about 1.5 million year ago, our ancestors were currently walking really much as we do today. As you may know, in comparison to the arched foot the humans, in chimpanzees and gorillas the sole is flat.

Allow me to summarize human development in the context of primate development from the mammalian ancestor. The Cenozoic era began approximately 66 million year ago. Many of the dinosaurs had actually gone and mammalian varieties radiated come fill available ecological niches. Some required to the sky, evolving right into bats; forelegs coming to be wing-like structures. Some dove right into the sea, developing into dolphins and whales; limbs transforming into come fin-shaped structures. Many ongoing to inhabit the ground as four-legged animals. Some ascended to the tree to become the usual ancestor the primates; feet modified right into hands. Four-legged pets became ‘four-handed’ animals in at an early stage primate evolution. Human being ancestors left the trees and also started invading the savanna. Upright posture and also bipedal locomotion was an ext efficient because that walking lengthy distances. Thus, we might encapsulate the advancement of human being bipedality in the context of primate advancement thus: from four hands to 2 feet.

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Matsuzawa T, Tomonaga M, Tanaka M (2006) Cognitive advancement in chimpanzees.

Matsuzawa T, Humle T, Sugiyama Y (2011) chimpanzees in Bossou and also Nimba.

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Primate research study Institute, Kyoto University, Inuyama, Japan

Tetsuro Matsuzawa

Japan Monkey Centre, Inuyama, Japan

Tetsuro Matsuzawa


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Correspondence to Tetsuro Matsuzawa.

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Matsuzawa, T. From 4 hands to 2 feet: human development in the paper definition of primate evolution. Primates 57, 137–139 (2016). Https://

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Published: 09 march 2016

Issue Date: April 2016

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