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Was ability to run early man's Achilles heel?
Date:9/11/2007

The earliest humans almost certainly walked upright on two legs but may have struggled to run at even half the speed of modern man, new research suggests.

The University of Manchester study presented to the BA (British Association for the Advancement of Science) Festival of Science in York on Tuesday proposes that if early humans lacked an Achilles tendon, as modern chimps and gorillas do, then their ability to run would have been severely compromised.

Our research supports the belief that the earliest humans used efficient bipedal walking rather than chimp-like Groucho walking, said Dr Bill Sellers, who led the research in the Universitys Faculty of Life Sciences.

But if, as seems likely, early humans lacked an Achilles tendon then whilst their ability to walk would be largely unaffected our work suggests running effectiveness would be greatly reduced with top speeds halved and energy costs more than doubled.

Efficient running would have been essential to allow our ancestors to move from a largely herbivorous diet to the much more familiar hunting activities associated with later humans. What we need to discover now is when in our evolution did we develop an Achilles tendon as knowing this will help unravel the mystery of our origins.

Dr Sellers, who recently published research on the running speeds of five meat-eating dinosaurs, used the same computer software to generate a humanoid bipedal computer model using data from a hominid fossil skeleton called Lucy and hominid footprints preserved in ash at Laetoli in Tanzania.

The skeletons and footprints from some of the earliest members of the human lineage the early hominids provide the best clues we have to how we progressed down the pathway to modern human walking and running, said Dr Sellers.

We have borrowed techniques from other scientific disciplines - robotics, computer science and biomechanics - in an attempt to reverse engineer fossil sk
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Contact: Aeron Haworth
aeron.haworth@manchester.ac.uk
44-161-275-8383
University of Manchester
Source:Eurekalert

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