Researching traits of early hominids is an incredibly important process as it is essentially finding the missing piece of the puzzle that tells us where we, as a species, derive from.
Something interesting I found from this week is that our evolution has not been one constantly morphing species change from chimpanzees to humans. I liked how it was explained in one of the videos that we should think of it more as a tree instead of a direct line. There are multiple “branches” that may have originated from the same species that we did that have since gone extinct such as the paranthropus- the main characteristic of this species being its prominent jaw line.
Dental histories are a massive part in explaining where we come from, as they can not only depict what facial features may have looked like, but also can give an inclination as to the species’ eating habits. For example, the paranthropus’ jaw suggests that the mammal had an enormous amount of power when it bit down. This, accompanied by their relatively small front teeth and non-projecting canines, suggests that the mammal needed to crush its food rather than tear it off. It also creates a picture of a more robust form with a large face.
Another characteristic that is key when discussing the differences between our ancestors and how they have developed is bipedalism- one of the first defining traits that breaks off from the lineage of chimpanzees. One way to determine whether a species is a biped or not is their forman magnum. If this is located toward the back of the skull, it can be assumed that the animal walked on all fours due to the fact that their spinal cord (and therefore the rest of their body) was behind them. If, however, it is located on the bottom of the skull (as ours is), it can be assumed that they were bipedal due to the fact that their body was underneath them.
One more way to determine various degrees of bipedalism is by looking at the hands. If an animal must use its hands more to walk, it puts a massive strain on the structure of the hands and wrist so they must be constructed in a way that supports this amount of weight. Due to the fact that there are varying degrees of bipedalism, there are then a paralleled amount of constructions for the hand/wrist complex. One of the videos used the examples of us walking on our hands or chimpanzees walking on their two feet. While we (…some of us) may be able to do it for a small amount of time, it is very uncomfortable because we are not made to do that. Similarly, the earliest hominids still had prominent knucklebones and wrist strength because, while they were considered bipeds, it was not entirely comfortable yet. We can compare this with the later hominids that had more delicate hands and wrists and longer legs that allowed them to be more comfortable walking on two legs.
By observing and learning more about characteristics such as these in early hominids, we are more accurately able to put together the pieces of our history and where we come from, which can then also help us predict how we will evolve in the future.