January 2022

FOOTPRINTS ID 2ND HUMAN ANCESTOR FOUND AT LAETOLI, TANZANIA

Bipedal trackways discovered in 1978 at Laetoli site G, Tanzania and dated to 3.66 million years ago are widely accepted as the oldest unequivocal evidence of obligate bipedalism in the human lineage. Another trackway discovered two years earlier at nearby site A was partially excavated and attributed to a hominin, but curious affinities with bears (ursids) marginalized its importance to the paleoanthropological community, and the location of these footprints fell into obscurity. In 2019, we located, excavated, and cleaned the site A trackway, producing a digital archive using 3D photogrammetry and laser scanning. Here we compare the footprints at this site with those of American black bears, chimpanzees and humans, and we show that they resemble those of hominins more than ursids. In fact, the narrow step width corroborates the original interpretation of a small, cross-stepping bipedal hominin. However, the inferred foot proportions, gait parameters, and 3D morphologies of footprints at site A are readily distinguished from those at site G, indicating that a minimum of 2 hominin taxa with different feet and gaits coexisted at Laetoli.

Abstract from: McNutt EJ, Hatala KG, Miller C et al. Footprint evidence of early hominin locomotor diversity at Laetoli, Tanzania. Nature. 2021;600:468–471. Use is per CC BY 4.0.

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