This is not a crime story, but a story nonetheless.
The latest human evolution star, Australopithecus sediba, ate leaves, according to its publicist, Lee Berger. In Nature News on July 5 (Margaret J. Schoeninger entertained the idea, giving credit to the star behind the star, the father of evolution:
In 1871, Charles Darwin proposed that our earliest ancestors lived in Africa alongside the ancestors of today’s gorillas and chimpanzees, and ate a diet of fruit, leaves, seeds and nuts, similar to that of these extant primates. More recently, however, an alternative hypothesis has taken precedence — that the human lineage split from the apes in part as a result of our ancestors’ ability to obtain foods in open habitats, such as grasslands and savannah woodlands, that emerged in Africa following climatic changes during the Late Miocene epoch approximately 7 million years ago. These foods included grasses, sedge plants, grass-eating insects and small animals. On page 90 of this issue,1 Henry et al. present evidence that our early relatives had a more diverse diet, and ate items such as fruits, leaves and bark. The findings will trigger a rethink of the selective pressures that resulted in the separation of the ape and human lineages, and the traits we now consider to be unique to each.
Any paleoanthropology discovery failing to “trigger a rethink” would break tradition (trigger? Remember, this is not a crime story). Berger gave Amanda Henry the limelight as first of 9 authors of the paper,1 but Au. sediba is his baby. Whether his baby ate leaves and bark from trees is less interesting to most readers as whether it belongs on the human family tree at all. Scheoninger barked about some of the uncertainty involving bigger issues than just diet:
The significance of these results extends beyond whether a diet based on C4 foods is a fundamental hominin trait. It also brings into question our understanding of the evolution of bipedalism — another trait that is thought of as being fundamentally human. The species in which bipedalism emerged, and the evolutionary pressures that drove this adaptation, remain topics of debate.…
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