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Since we can never study our ancestors directly, we must rely on their traces to understand them. The earliest members of our lineage, the australopithecines, are quite ape-like, which means that we must turn to chimpanzees and other nonhuman primates for hints about how they behaved, and why human evolution took its peculiar course.
In my research I use what I learn from chimpanzee locomotion, posture and ecology to better understand what led humans to diverge from apes, in particular, what advantage bipedalism gave our chimpanzee-like ancestors some 5 million years ago.
I attempt to link specific anatomical features in chimpanzees and australopithecines with specific behaviors. I use these links to trace the path of human evolution, particularly through reconstruction of their foraging habits. In my research muscular and skeletal form are treated as engineering problems, and the "design" of the animal is treated as a solution to the need to perform a particular activity (e.g., running, arm-hanging). Ecological study is linked because the body (teeth, jaws, hands, limbs even brain) is really a food-getting machine. Once a secure link between a particular behavior or dietary item and an anatomical feature is made, we can turn this link back on the fossils and reconstruct their behavior. In short, our ancestors' bodies can be understood as complicated machines oriented toward certain tasks.