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Ancient Footprints Reveal Earliest Signs of Human-Like Gait
Date:7/22/2011

FRIDAY, July 22 (HealthDay News) -- Ancient footprints of a human ancestor found in Tanzania show human-like walking began 3.7 million years ago, according to new research.

The footprints demonstrate that the fully upright gait of modern humans existed about 2 million years earlier than previously thought, said researchers at the University of Liverpool.

"The shape of the human foot is probably one of the most obvious differences between us and our nearest living relatives, the great apes. The difference in foot function is thought to be linked to the fact that humans spend all of their time on the ground, but there has been a lot of debate as to when in the fossil record these changes occurred. Our work shows that there is considerably more functional overlap than previously expected," Bill Sellers, of the University of Manchester's Faculty of Life Sciences, said in a University of Liverpool news release.

Known as the Laetoli trail, the 11 individual footprints found in Tanzania are the earliest known footprints made by human ancestors. The prints reveal features of a gait with more similarities to the way modern humans walk than the bipedal walking of chimpanzees, orangutans and gorillas.

In conducting the study, the researchers used statistical and imaging techniques to obtain a three-dimensional average of the 11 footprints and compared the results to data from previous studies on footprint formation and under-foot pressure in modern humans and other living great apes. Then they used computer simulation to predict how Australopithecus afarensis -- the species that left the Laetoli trail footprints -- walked.

"It was previously thought that Australopithecus afarensis walked in a crouched posture, and on the side of the foot, pushing off the ground with the middle part of the foot, as today's great apes do," Robin Crompton, professor at the University of Liverpool's Institute of Ageing and C
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