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Earliest 'human footprints' found 
The earliest footprints showing evidence of modern human foot anatomy and gait 
have been unearthed in Kenya.  
The 1.5-million-year-old footprints display signs of a pronounced arch
and short, aligned toes, in contrast to older footprints. 
The size and spacing of the Kenyan markings -
attributed to Homo erectus - reflect the height, weight, and walking
style of modern humans. 
The findings have been published in the journal Science. 
The footprints are not the oldest belonging to a member of the human
lineage. That title belongs to the 3.7 million-year-old Australopithecus 
afarensis  prints found in Laetoli, Tanzania, in 1978. 
Those prints, however, showed comparatively flat feet and a
significantly higher angle between the big toe and the other toes,
representative of a foot still adapted to grasping. 
Exactly how that more ape-like foot developed into its modern version has 
remained unclear. 
The fossil record is distinctly lacking in foot and hand bones,
according to lead author Matthew Bennett of Bournemouth University, UK. 
"The reason is that carnivores like to eat hands and feet," Professor Bennett 
told BBC News. 
"Once the flesh is gone there's a lot of little bones that don't get
preserved, so we know very little about the evolution of hands and feet
on our ancestors." 
The footprints were found near Ileret in northern Kenya. The site, on a
small hill, is made up of metres of sediment which the researchers
carefully cleared away. 
What they found was two sets of footprints, one five
metres deeper than the other, separated by sand, silt, and volcanic
The team dated the surrounding sediment by comparing it
with well-known radioisotope-dated samples from the region, finding
that the two layers of prints were made at least 10,000 years apart. 
Another critical feature that the series of footprints makes clear is how Homo 
erectus  walked. 
There is evidence of a heavy landing on the heel with weight
transferred along the outer edge of the foot, progressing to the ball
of the foot and lifting off with the toes. 
"That's very diagnostic of the modern style of walking,
and the Laetoli prints don't give that same character," Professor
Bennett said. 
The finding is a critical clue for mapping out the evolution of modern humans, 
both in terms of physiology and also how H. erectus  fared in its environment. 
H. erectus  was a great leap in evolution, showing increased variety of diet 
and of habitat, and was the first Homo  species to make the journey out of 
"There's some suggestion out there that Homo erectus  was able to scour the 
landscape for carcasses and meat...and was able
to get there very quickly, had longer limbs and was much more efficient
in terms of long distance travel," Professor Bennett added. 
"Now we're also saying it had an essentially modern foot anatomy and function, 
which also adds to that story." 
Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2009/02/26 19:00:29 GMT


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