Photo: Nature / Reproduction
Researchers at Ohio University in the US have shown that a group of ancient footprints previously attributed to bears actually belong to the ancient humans who inhabited the region of Tanzania. The study describing the controversy was published in the scientific journal temper nature.
Footprints were first found in 1976 by Peter Jones and Philip Leakey. Scientists were investigating the archaeological site of Laetoli, in the African country, when they came across fossils that formed from the solidification of volcanic ash.
At the time, the shape of the feet led the couple to believe they were marks left by a small bear. The size of the footprints is about 16 cm, which is equivalent to the size of children’s shoe No. 24 – or the paws of a bear under a year. The material has been dated to 3.7 million years ago.
Ohio researchers now realize that several factors did not make sense in the early story.
For starters, the bear can walk on its hind legs, but it will take no more than four steps in this position. Also, the big toe was much larger than the second toe – a feature common to humans.
To close, the steps were like a supermodel’s walk on the catwalk, with a cross-walk. The anatomy of bears does not allow them to maintain their balance as they cross footsteps.
Other groups of footprints were found at Laetoli earlier, at a site a few kilometers from the new find. The path, which was left at the same time as the last signs, indicates that three hominins walked there together. Footprints are set to Australopithecus afarensis.
But scientists believe that the new signs do not belong to a. afarensis. If it is confirmed that the fossil refers to a different type of hominid, it would be possible to say that two different species coexisted in Tanzania.
Remember that early humans were smaller than modern humans. Scientists estimate that the owners of Pigava ranged from 101 to 104 centimeters. The small size of the feet does not indicate that the walker was necessarily a baby.
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