Toeing the Line

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A fossilized footprint found in Kenya—thought to be 1.5 million years old—doesn’t look its age.

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Instead, that footprint is “modern,” to quote ScienceNOW’s Ann Gibbons, who adds, “these early humans . .&nbps;. walked just like we do.”

Why is that such a surprise? Gibbons explains that researchers are in a debate over when ancient humans began walking “upright in a modern manner” rather than “with a more primitive gait, possibly like the bent-kneed waddle of chimpanzees.” The scientists believe the footprints were probably made by Homo erectus, showing it walked just as we do. The similarities listed by the team are that the print-makers pushed their feet off the ground with their big toes and shifted their weight across their toes just like modern humans. The parallel big toe and pronounced arch indicated by the prints shows that Homo erectus “evolved modern body proportions,” in Darwinian-speak.

“They confirm that a modern, humanlike, bipedal gait is present by at least 1.5 million years ago, with all the biomechanical nuances we associate with our own way of walking,” explained William Jungers, an anatomist at Stony Brook University Medical Center.

The footprints confirm the creation view that Homo erectus, like Neanderthals, were fully modern humans. They exhibited some skeletal differences, just as humans today do, but there is no evidence that they were any closer to apes than we are. Of course, analyzing anatomy based on footprints alone obviously requires certain assumptions and extrapolations, which is why there are controversies over many fossilized footprints.

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