Mysterious footprints discovered at a site in Tanzania were left by early HUMANS 3.7 million years ago – and not bears as previously thought, study claims

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  • A bear’s ancient footprints were actually human, study finds
  • Impressions re-analyzed after being discovered at a site in Tanzania in 1976
  • The area is already known to host the earliest definitive evidence of hominin bipedalism.
  • Research shows that 3.7m years ago another early human walked on two legs

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Mysterious footprints first made by ancient bears were actually left behind by early humans millions of years ago, a new study has found.

Evidence of a large toe and large heel in fossil impressions discovered at a site in Tanzania in 1976 helped classify them as belonging to an unidentified bipedal hominin that may have had a strange cross-stepping gait.

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This suggests that more than one such species was walking on two legs 3.7 million years ago, as distinct footprints found at a nearby site at Laetoli were the first to be identified as the earliest definitive evidence of bipedalism in hominins. .

Researchers believe they were related Australopithecus afarensis – the famous partial skeleton hominin species of ‘Lucy’, the longest-living and best-known example of one of our early human ancestors.

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It is unclear what type of early human was responsible for the prints found in 1976, but the impressions suggest that whoever it was was either a bizarre cross-stepping gait or perhaps navigating dangerous terrain.

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Mysterious footprints (shown in pictures A and B) that were first made by ancient bears were actually left behind by early humans millions of years ago, a new study has found. This compared the impressions to another early hominin footprint found nearby (c), as well as bears (d) and chimpanzees (e).

Evidence of a large toe and large heel in fossil impressions (pictured) discovered at a site in Tanzania in 1976 helped identify them as belonging to an unidentified bipedal hominin

Evidence of a large toe and large heel in fossil impressions (pictured) discovered at a site in Tanzania in 1976 helped identify them as belonging to an unidentified bipedal hominin

What is the oldest known example of man walking on two legs?

The oldest definite evidence of upright walking in the human lineage is the footprints discovered in 1978 by paleontologist Mary Leakey and her team in Letoli, Tanzania.

The bipedal trackways date back 3.7 million years and were found close to another set of mysterious footprints that were partially excavated in 1976.

These were initially ruled out as possibly created by an ancient bear, but now researchers have found that they actually belonged to a different species of early human.

The study, led by Ohio University, compared two sets of latoli footprints, including foot proportions, morphology, and possible gait, concluding that they were made by separate species.

The earliest known example, found in 1978, was Australopithecus afarensis – the famous partial skeleton hominin species of ‘Lucy’, the longest-living and best-known example of one of our early human ancestors.

But it is not clear what type of early human was responsible for the prints discovered in 1976.

The impressions suggest that whoever it was was either a bizarre cross-stepping gait or was probably navigating dangerous terrain.

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The researchers said the footprints were placed in such a way that the creature would have been placing each foot before the body’s midline to touch the front of the other foot.

“Although humans typically do not cross-step, this motion can occur when one is trying to re-establish one’s balance,” said study lead author Alison McNutt.

,[The] The footprints may have been the result of a hominin roaming an area that was an uneven surface.’

In 1978, five consecutive footprints discovered at the Laetoli site provided the first definitive evidence of bipedalism in hominins and were associated with Australopithecus afarensis.

‘Lucy’, which belonged to that hominin species, was discovered in the Afar region of Ethiopia in 1974 and is believed to have been a young adult when she died out 3.18 million years ago.

Researchers have previously claimed that it died after falling from a tree, offering unusual evidence for tree habitat in an extinct species.

However, other footprints discovered at the same time at a nearby location called Site A, before being covered up later, prompted debate.

Some thought they were created by bears walking on hind legs, while others believed that a different kind of hominin may have been responsible for ‘Lucy’.

In 2019, McNutt and his colleagues re-excavated these unusually shaped footprints and compared them to impressions made by bears, chimpanzees and humans.

“Given the growing evidence of locomotor and species diversity in the hominin fossil record over the past 30 years, these unusual prints should be given another look,” McNutt said.

Footprints were measured, photographed and 3D-scanned and revealed a large effect for the heel and big toe – both fit with a hominin species.

The footprint at Site A (pictured left) is shown with the one at Site G (right), the earliest definitive evidence of bipedalism in hominins after it was discovered in 1978.

The footprint at Site A (pictured left) is shown with the one at Site G (right), the earliest definitive evidence of bipedalism in hominins after it was discovered in 1978.

Footprints were measured, photographed and 3D-scanned and revealed that there is a large effect for the heel and big toe – both fit with a hominin species.  The image above shows a topographic map of the two footprints.

Footprints were measured, photographed and 3D-scanned and revealed a large effect for the heel and big toe – both fit with a hominin species. The image above shows a topographic map of the two footprints.

The researchers also did a video analysis of the behavior of the wild American black bear (pictured left) and found that the animal rarely walks on its hind legs.  its footprints are painted right

The researchers also did a video analysis of the behavior of the wild American black bear (pictured left) and found that the animal rarely walks on its hind legs. its footprints are painted right

The researchers also did a video analysis of the behavior of the wild American black bear and found that the animal rarely walks on its hind legs.

The bears walked two feet less than one percent of the total observation time, making it unlikely that a bear made footprints in Laetoli, especially given that this individual walked on four legs. were not found.

‘As a bear…

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