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UNIVERSITY OF CAMBRIDGE—A wide-ranging new study of fossils spanning over four million years suggests that stature and body mass advanced at different speeds during the evolution of hominins - the ancestral lineage of which Homo sapiens alone still exist.
Published today in the journal Royal Society Open Science, the research also shows that, rather than steadily increasing in size, hominin bodies evolved in "pulse and stasis" fluctuations, with some lineages even shrinking.
Findings - Study - Hominin - Body - Specimens
The findings are from the largest study of hominin body sizes, involving 311 specimens dating from earliest upright species of 4.4m years ago right through to the modern humans that followed the last ice age.
While researchers describe the physical evolution of assorted hominin species as a "long and winding road with many branches and dead ends", they say that broad patterns in the data suggest bursts of growth at key stages, followed by plateaus where little changed for many millennia.
Scientists - Decoupling - Bulk - Stature - Years
The scientists were surprised to find a "decoupling" of bulk and stature around one and a half million years ago, when hominins grew roughly 10cm taller but would not consistently gain any heft for a further million years, with an average increase of 10-15kgs occurring around 500,000 years ago.
Before this event, height and weight in hominin species appeared to evolve roughly "in concert", say the authors of this first study to jointly analyse both aspects of body size over millions of years.
Increase - Stature - Leaner - Physique - Legs
"An increase solely in stature would have created a leaner physique, with long legs and narrow hips and shoulders. This may have been an adaptation to new environments and endurance hunting, as early Homo species left the forests and moved on to more arid African savannahs," says lead author Dr Manuel Will from Cambridge's Department of Archaeology, and a Research Fellow at Gonville and Caius College.
"The higher surface-to-volume ratio of...
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