Throughout the entire history of humans, the acquisition of bipedalism was vital to the success of early humans. Australopithecus afarensis, one of our oldest and most well known ancestors, was first discovered in various parts of Africa, specifically Ethiopia. When they were discovered, the fossils of A. afarensis, which date back 3.
2 million years ago, were the oldest fossils to demonstrate that early human ancestors walked on two legs (Gibbons, 2009). In recent years, other fossils have surfaced of an older ancestor, Ardipithecus ramidus, that are 4.4 million years old (Gibbons, 2009). While a picture is forming of when human ancestors began to walk on two legs, the questions of how and why this transition occurred still remain. Many factors could have played a role in this evolutionary feat. In many examples of drastic evolutionary change, the environment often plays an important role. In regards to human ancestors, how much, and in what ways, did the environment shape the evolution of bipedalism in humans? In 1974, a team of experts were conducting a dig to survey a particularly fossil rich area in Ethiopia, when they came upon different bone fragments that were later classified as A. afarensis.
Before this discovering, it was unclear as to how humans began to walk upright, let alone why. This discovery by paleoanthropologist Donald Johanson and his team led scientists to questions the very origins of humans (Kimble & Delezene, 2009). This discovery revealed to scientists a distinct shift between humans quadrupedal ancestors and their new bipedal forms. Australopithecus afarensis was the key to show that humans had a differentiated themselves from their quadrupedal ancestors. This new bipedal form was more efficient and distinctly different from previous human ancestors.
While fossils can show a great deal about the early ancestors of humans, they cannot tell the whole story. The remains of A. afarensis can only show so much about this important transformation.