Historic footprints mistakenly attributed to bears have been made by early people : NPR

A brand new take a look at almost 3.7 million-year-old fossil footprints uncovered in Tanzania exhibits that a number of species of early people lived collectively on the similar time.


The earliest proof of people strolling upright is fossilized footprints. They have been left by somebody strolling via the mud almost 3.7 million years in the past. And a examine launched final month means that early human didn’t stroll alone. On this encore presentation, NPR’s Nell Greenfieldboyce reviews on the brand new look researchers took at another historical tracks.


NELL GREENFIELDBOYCE: Strolling on two legs is a distinctively human factor to do. It appears to make us completely different than different residing primates.

ELLISON MCNUTT: It is a very unusual method of form of transferring via the world.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: Ellison McNutt is a organic anthropologist on the Ohio College Heritage School of Osteopathic Medication. She research upright strolling and says most four-legged creatures discover it difficult.

MCNUTT: For those who think about asking your canine to try this, they’re actually wobbly. They’re actually uncomfortable. They do not wish to try this.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: But people did it early of their historical past. For instance, at one web site in Tanzania, a volcanic eruption over 3 1/2 million years in the past lined the panorama with ash and preserved all types of tracks that had been left within the mud.

MCNUTT: So we’re speaking elephants and bunnies, birds. All types of issues walked throughout this panorama, and so they left these superb footprints.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: Together with one set of footprints that look fairly human.

MCNUTT: And this trackway has been reconstructed to belong to a hominin, an early human ancestor referred to as Australopithecus afarensis. And this is identical species that the fairly well-known fossil Lucy belongs to.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: Now, when these have been found again within the Seventies, employees additionally discovered a monitor of 5 footprints that regarded extra mysterious. Researchers speculated that these prints have been created by a small bear strolling upright.

MCNUTT: They have been tentative about it and acknowledged that, you realize, we do not have a great reply for this. This can be a cheap reply. Bears do get up and stroll upright.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: McNutt had truly been learning how bears try this when she got here throughout a point out of those fossil tracks, which had been largely forgotten for many years. She and her colleagues determined to reexamine them utilizing fashionable know-how. They did detailed comparisons to footprints left by people, chimpanzees and younger bears residing in a sanctuary.

MCNUTT: We ended up with 4 little juvenile bears that we had get up and stroll via mud for both applesauce or maple syrup as their reward on the finish of it (laughter).

GREENFIELDBOYCE: Their outcomes seem within the journal Nature. And it seems the fossil footprints simply aren’t bear-like. As an alternative, there are indicators of extra humanlike options, reminiscent of an enormous toe. McNutt says it appears like there have been two early human species strolling round again then. In actual fact, they may have seen one another go by.

MCNUTT: The character of fossil footprints and the way these trackways are made is that they are in the identical layer of mud. So these are possible made inside the scale of hours to days from each other.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: All of this has satisfied Stephanie Melillo. She’s a paleoanthropologist on the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany.

STEPHANIE MELILLO: We see there the presence of two completely different sorts of hominin ancestors collectively in the identical atmosphere, in the identical place, on the similar time.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: She says one of many largest questions on human evolution is why our ancestors began strolling upright.

MELILLO: And I do not suppose that we actually have a great reply to that query but.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: However these footprints recommend that a number of human species co-existed whereas strolling upright in several methods. Nell Greenfieldboyce, NPR Information.


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