Laetoli footprints show signs of unusual gait

Contrary to prior study, Tanzanian hominids did not walk like humans

WALK IT BACK  A new analysis of 3.6-million-year-old footprints excavated in 1978 at Laetoli, Tanzania, challenges the argument that early hominids strode in much the same manner as people today do. Shown is a cast of two of the 70 footprints.

Tim Evanson

CALGARY, Alberta — Hominids that left footprints in volcanic ash at Laetoli, Tanzania 3.6 million years ago walked differently than people today do, Kevin Hatala, an anthropologist George Washington University in Washington, D.C., reported on April 11 at the American Association of Physical Anthropologists annual meeting. His conclusion challenges a recent study suggesting that Laetoli folk took humanlike strides (SN Online: 3/22/10).

Hatala compared measures of the depth and shape of Laetoli prints with similar measures of footprints made in moist soil by men from a Tanzanian community of herders and farmers who rarely wear shoes. While walking, ancient Laetoli individuals flexed their big toes more when pushing off and extended their hips less than the African men did, Hatala said.

Bruce Bower has written about the behavioral sciences for Science News since 1984. He writes about psychology, anthropology, archaeology and mental health issues.

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