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Ancient footprints make a big impression

footprint.jpgThere is much excitement – and no small number of puns – greeting the news that ancient footprints found in Kenya show our distant ancestors were striding around on feet very like ours some 1.5 million years ago.

Writing in Science, researchers report that after laser scanning the sets of prints, they concluded these are “the oldest evidence of an essentially modern human–like foot anatomy”. While the famous Laetoli prints from Tanzania are substantially older, at 3.75 million years, those prints showed a more ape-like foot.

Study leader Matthew Bennett, of Bournemouth University in the UK, notes the importance of the find in the Times:

Now we know that 1.5 million years ago, Homo erectus had feet with an anatomy very similar to modern humans. It could essentially walk with the same biomechanical efficiency as you or I.

Susan Antón, of New York University, told Science News the prints could have come from Homo habilis or Paranthropus boisei, rather than Homo erectus. The New York Times though says:

Although the discoverers were cautious in attributing the prints to Homo erectus, [Harvard’s Daniel] Lieberman and other experts said in interviews that it was highly unlikely they could have been made by other known hominid contemporaries. “The prints are what you would expect from the erectus skeleton we have,” said Leslie C. Aiello, president of the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, which supported the research.

Reuters spoke with paper author David Braun of the University of Cape Town in South Africa, who says:

It was kind of creepy excavating these things to see all of a sudden something that looks so dramatically like something that you yourself could have made 20 minutes earlier in some kind of wet sediment just next to the site. These could quite easily have been made on the beach today.

Ars Technica explains how the new prints differ from the older find:

Modern humans begin with our heel making the first contact with the ground; the pressure is then transferred along the outside of the foot, travels across the ball of our foot, and we finally push off using our hallux—the big toe (the one that went to market).

Other primates will place the heel and outside of the foot on the ground first, and weight will be transferred to the middle toes, and then a variety of push-off motions occur.

Headline watch

Modern feet step back 1.5 million years – Science News

These feet were made for walking: upright and long distances – Ars Technica

Walking tall: oldest footprints show a distinctly modern gait – Sydney Morning Herald

Image: Matthew Bennett


  1. Report this comment

    John Umana said:

    These are remarkable and exciting new anthropological finds at Ileret, Kenya. Yet, these 1.5 million year old footprints are the footprints of a pre-human hominid, Homo erectus — not our species Homo sapiens. What is particularly significant is that the 1.5 million year old footprints of this prior species are indicative of modern human foot anatomy. Homo erectus was evolved about 2 million years ago in Africa. Nariokotome boy (KNM-WT 1500), a “missing link” stumbled across in 1984 in Lake Turkana, Kenya by a team led by Richard Leakey and Alan Walker, is an example of Homo erectus or Homo ergaster 1.5 million years ago. That child’s eye sockets were overshadowed by a brow ridge, a ridge of bone that gave the skull a glowering expression, and there was a low, receding forehead leading to a long and flat crown. The boy had a tall, thin muscular physique, suited for radiating heat from his body in equatorial Africa and chasing game on the open plains. Australopithecenes millions of years before this also were walking on two feet. It is not that people adapted to equatorial climates by becoming tall and slender, or that people adapted to cold climates by becoming short and stocky. Rather, the Force tailors peoples and species to their environments and conditions. Creation: Towards a Theory of All Things by John Umana (amazon). When it came to feet, though, there was no need to ‘reinvent the wheel’ from the anatomy of Homo erectus. The feet you are walking around on today are essentially the same feet that these people had 1.5 million years ago. Did we evolve from Homo erectus? No, not directly. But we did evolve from another species that was evolved from erectus. Biological evolution and common ancestry are real and proved by the convergence of the sciences. Darwin and Wallace were correct in positing that all species descend from prior species. The question is, what triggers the evolution of a new species from a prior species?

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