Fossil footprints in Tanzania offer earliest clues of upright walking in early humans

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A set of fossilized footprints in Tanzania, formerly believed to be made by a bear, has now been found as one of the oldest examples of upright walking in early humans.

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The site in Tanzania, where five consecutive footprints known as “the Laetoli footprints” were discovered in 1970, date back more than three million years in previous studies.

While earlier research found that some of these fossil footprints were made by a human ancestral hominin species walking upright on two legs about 3.6 million years ago, other traces in nearby sites fell into obscurity because some There were bear marks.

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Some experts thought that these were created by a young bear walking upright on its hind legs.

The current study, published Wednesday in the journal Nature, suggests that these footprints at Site A are very different from those discovered in 1970, but they were also made by an early upright walking human – a bipedal hominin – suggesting Giving that multiple species coexisted on hominin landscapes.

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“Given the growing evidence for locomotor and species diversity in the hominin fossil record over the past 30 years, these unusual prints should be given another look,” study co-author Alison McNutt from Ohio University said in a statement.

Model (a) of Laetoli site A showing five hominin footprints; and the corresponding contour map of the site in Laetoli, Tanzania, generated from the 3D surface scan (B); Map showing Letoli, which is located within the Ngorongoro Conservation Area in northern Tanzania, south of Olduvai Gorge (c); Topographical maps of the A2 footprint (d) and the A3 footprint (e).

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Model (a) of Laetoli site A showing five hominin footprints; and the corresponding contour map of the site in Laetoli, Tanzania, generated from the 3D surface scan (B); Map showing Letoli, which is located within the Ngorongoro Conservation Area in northern Tanzania, south of Olduvai Gorge (c); Topographical maps of the A2 footprint (d) and the A3 footprint (e).

In the new study, scientists re-excavated and thoroughly cleaned five consecutive footprints at Site A and compared some of the tracks to the footprints of black bears, chimpanzees and modern humans.

After assessing nearly 50 hours of footage of four semi-wild juvenile black bears at a rescue and rehabilitation center in New Hampshire, scientists found that they walk on two legs less than 1 percent of the time, making it difficult for bears to it’s not possible. Laetoli has made a footprint.

Scientists say this may be because the four-legged area did not have the footprints of ancient bears of this time.

“Bears take very wide strides, stagger back and forth as they walk,” senior author Jeremy DeSilva of Dartmouth College said in a statement.

Left: Alison McNutt collects data from a juvenile female black bear (Ursus americanus), which walks bipedally through a mud trackway at the Kilham Bear Center in Lyme, New Hampshire. Right: Footprints of one of the juvenile black bears

“height=”467″ width=”700″ srcset=”https://static.independent.co.uk/2021/12/03/05/Low-Res_diptych-cub-pawprint.jpg.png?width=320&auto= webp&quality=75&crop=700:467,smart 320w, https://static.independent.co.uk/2021/12/03/05/Low-Res_diptych-cub-pawprint.jpg.png?width=640&auto=webp&quality=75&crop =700:467, smart 640w” layout = “responsive” i-amphtml-layout = “responsive”>

Left: Alison McNutt collects data from a juvenile female black bear (Ursus americanus), which walks bipedally through a mud trackway at the Kilham Bear Center in Lyme, New Hampshire. Right: Footprints of one of the juvenile black bears

“They are unable to walk similar to the site A footprints, because their hip musculature and knee shape don’t allow for that kind of movement and balance,” DeSilva said.

The researchers also measured, photographed and 3D-scanned the footprints and found that these were in fact made by an early human hominin ancestor, which included a major impact for the heel and big toe.

The study noted that bears’ heel tapers and their toes and feet are fan-like, with early human feet being square and a prominent large toe.

However, controversial footprints in Site A also record one foot over the other while walking – a gait called “cross-stepping”, which scientists say may not have been produced by chimps – another animal in question.

“When a bear or a chimpanzee walks with two legs, cross-stepping is impossible, and probably impossible,” the scientists wrote in the study.

“Although humans typically do not cross-step, this motion can occur when one is trying to re-establish one’s balance,” explained Dr. McNutt.

Based on these new clues, the researchers believe that Site A’s footprints may have been the result of a hominin roaming an area that was an uneven surface.

Comparing the proportions, morphology and possible gait of feet at Site A with footprints of other human ancestors such as Australopithecus afarensis Uncovered at nearby sites, scientists say that different hominin species were walking bipedally on this landscape “but in different ways on different legs.”

However, they are uncertain which species of early humans may have printed at Site A.

“We have this evidence from the 1970s. To get us here, we need rediscovery and more detailed analysis of these amazing footprints,” said Dr. DeSilva.

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Credit: www.independent.co.uk /

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