An article published in the Journal of Geology explains in a novel way what would have caused our ancestors to begin to walk upright. According to the authors, led by Adrian Melott, supernovas bombarded the Earth about 8 million years ago, with a peak in activity 2.6 million years ago. This initiated an avalanche of electrons in the lower atmosphere and activated a chain of events that possibly ended with biped hominids such as Homo habilis.
Melott’s team believes that atmospheric ionization probably caused a huge increase in the discharges of thunderstorms that caused forest fires across the planet. These fires could be one of the reasons why the ancestors of Homo sapiens developed bipedism: the need to adapt to the savannas that replaced the burned forests in northeast Africa.
“It is thought that there was already a certain tendency of hominins to walk on two legs, even before this event,” Melott explains in a statement. “But the reality is that they adapted mainly to climb trees. After this conversion to savanna, they would have to walk much more often from one tree to another through the grasslands, so they improve their ability to walk upright. Thanks to that they could see predators over the pastures. It is believed that this conversion to savanna it contributed to bipedalism as it became more and more dominant in human ancestors.”
The conclusions are based on the analysis of a layer of iron-60 deposits in the seabed of the planet caused by the explosion of supernovae during the transition between the Pliocene and the glaciation.
According to Melott, ionization in the lower atmosphere meant that a large number of electrons would facilitate the arrival of thunderstorms. The probability that this peak of lightning has caused a global increase in forest fires is due to the discovery of carbon deposits in soils that correspond to the time of electron bombardment.
“Our analysis indicates that there is much more carbon and soot on the planet for a few million years,” Melott adds. “It is everywhere, in different climatic zones and nobody has any explanation of what happened. This could be an explanation. It is believed that this increase in fires has stimulated the transition from forests to savannas in many places, which in turn would be related to human evolution in northeastern Africa, specifically, in the Great Rift Valley, where all these hominin fossils.”
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