Little Foot's inner ear sheds light on her movement and behaviour | 1/9/2019 | Staff
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MicroCT scans of the 3.67-million-year-old Australopithecus fossil known as Little Foot shed some light on how she lived and moved.

The inner ear of hominin fossils has the potential to provide valuable information about how the individual moved, what its hearing capacities were, and how the evolution of the species relates to others.

MicroCT - Scans - Evolutionary - Studies - Institute

Based on MicroCT scans performed at the Evolutionary Studies Institute at the University of the Witwatersrand, a Wits scientist and colleagues have been able to virtually extract the inner ear of the ~3.67 million-year-old Australopithecus known as "Little Foot" from Sterkfontein Caves. A description of the inner ear by Wits researchers Dr. Amélie Beaudet, Professor Ronald Clarke and their team was published today in the Journal of Human Evolution as part of a special issue of this journal on the near-complete Little Foot skeleton.

The inner ear of Little Foot was compared with 17 hominin specimens from Sterkfontein, Swartkrans and Makapansgat belonging to the genera Australopithecus, Paranthropus and Homo and dating between three and 1.8 million years ago, as well as with 10 chimpanzees and 10 modern humans.

Foot - Ear - Features - Canals - Cochlea

Overall, Little Foot's inner ear has both ape-like and human-like features, because the inner ear canals and the cochlea provided different results.

The semicircular canals in Little Foot's are different from both modern humans and from Paranthropus – a genus of extinct hominins that lived at the same time as the first humans. The Paranthropus canals have a very specific shape that is not shared with any of the fossil specimens.

Contrast - Foot - Inner - Ear - Canals

"By contrast, we found that the Little Foot inner ear canals are close to those of chimpanzees," says Beaudet, lead researcher of the study. "They differ from modern human inner ear canals in that modern humans' canals evolved for unique activities such as running."

The study also shows a large diversity in the shape of...
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