Laetoli Footprints

More Laetoli footprints found, according to reports in BBC News, and Nature News 14 December 2017, and eLife 5:e19568. doi: 10.7554/eLife.19568, 14 December 2016.

In 1976 Mary Leakey and colleagues found fossilised footprints in a layer of volcanic tuff (solidified volcanic ash) in Tanzania dated as 3.66 million years old. In spite of their human-like appearance the footprints were assigned to Australopithecus afarensis, Lucy’s species, rather than human beings. A team of palaeontologists working in the same region have now found more footprints approximately 150m (164yards) from the original site in the same layer of rock.

The prints are from two individuals, one larger than the other. There are 12 prints of the larger individual and one of a smaller individual. One set of prints is a trackway of four prints in typical human bipedal pattern. These prints are around 27cm long with deep oval heel impressions and a ridge at the front indicating the toes have gripped wet volcanic ash. The big toe is in line with the rest of the toes.

Bruce Latimer, a palaeoanthropologist at Case Western Reserve University, who worked on the original Laetoli prints, said the new prints added to evidence that the Laetoli individuals had human-like feet and commented: “The Laetoli prints would not attract attention on a modern beach”.

Using the depth of the prints and the stride length, the researchers estimate the individual who made them was 1.63m tall and weighed around 48kg. This is much larger that estimated sizes for Australopithecines based on their bones. The original prints and the other individual represented in the new find are much smaller, with estimated sizes between 1.1m and 1.49m. The research team claims the new large footprints are evidence that Australopithecines had sexual dimorphism, i.e. large differences in size between males and females, and they lived in groups consisting of one large male with a number of females.

Not all scientists are convinced of these conclusions. According to Nature News, Bruce Latimer thinks “conclusions about Australopithecus social groups should be taken with a pinch of salt”.

BBC, Nature

Editorial Comment: It is right to be sceptical about conclusions about Australopithecus social groups based on a few footprints, but not for the reasons palaeoanthropologists think. The real reason is there is no evidence … nada … zilch … nothing to show that these footprints were ever made by Australopithecines!

The most famous Australopithecine is Lucy, whose partial skeleton was found far away in Ethiopia, and does not include feet. All other fossils of Australopithecines consist of many fragmentary pieces found in various sites in Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania, and none provide evidence of the size estimated from the new footprints. There are no foot bones associated with any Laetoli footprints, so claims about who made them must be based exclusively on evidence in the prints.

As Bruce Latimer commented, the new prints are clearly made by an upright bipedal creature who left footprints just like any from human footprints found on a modern beach. Therefore, the most logical conclusion from all observed evidence is that these were made by a group of human beings. The estimated sizes for the new Laetoli footprint makers would fit with one adult, probably a woman, or maybe a youth, along with a number of children. The reasons for assigning them to Australopithecus are evolutionists’ beliefs, i.e. the believed date of the rock layer, and the belief that humans had not evolved at this time. If they had been found in a rock layer with a younger date we have no doubt they would have been assigned to human beings.

Photo: Masao et al, eLife 2016;5:e19568, reproduced under terms of Creative Commons Attribution License, (CC BY 4.0).

Evidence News vol. 17, No.1
1 February 2017
Creation Research Australia

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