Laetoli Footprints Keep on Walking

I have written previously about the Laetoli footprints and what they tell us about the history of humanity. Like all good science, there has been further research on the subject that confirms my original contention – that at a time when our ancestors were supposed to be the small, ape-like Australopithecus afarensis, something very like a modern human was walking around. From the article:

Quite remarkably, we found that some healthy humans produce footprints that are more like those of other apes than the Laetoli prints. The foot function represented by the prints is therefore most likely to be similar to patterns seen in modern-humans. This is important because the development of the features of human foot function helped our ancestors to expand further out of Africa.

 “Our work demonstrates that many of these features evolved nearly four million years ago in a species that most consider to be partially tree-dwelling. These findings show support for a previous study at Liverpool that showed upright bipedal walking originally evolved in a tree-living ancestor of living great apes and humans. Australopithecus afarensis, however, was not modern in body proportions of the limbs and torso.

“The characteristic long-legged, short body form of the modern human allows us to walk and run great distances, even when carrying heavy loads. Australopithecus afarensis had the reverse physical build, short legs and a long body, which makes it probable that it could only walk or run effectively over short distances. We now need to determine when our ancestors first became able to walk or run over the very long distances that enabled humans to colonise the world.”

In short, what scientists have long contended to be our primitive ancestor, Australopithecus afarensis, can’t have made those footprints, and thus is unlikely to have been our ancestor.

This fact demonstrates a few problems with evolutionary paleontology – the first is that many evolutionary trees are constructed on presumptions about what think our ancestors must have looked like. Australopithecus fit the image of an ape-like intermediary, and so scientists held it up as ‘proof’ of that ancestry. The problem is, absent genetic evidence, such contentions are always guesswork, guesswork that we now know to be wrong in this instance.

It also demonstrates that our paleontological record of human history is still very incomplete. Obviously something else existed at the time of Australopithecus which made those footprints – yet we have no fossil record of such a creature other than these footprints. This tells us that the story of our biological ancestry is still largely unknown, despite assurances from evolutionists.

Obviously, as someone who believes humans are the product of design, I have no problem with an ancient human with the modern ability to walk upright.


4 Responses to Laetoli Footprints Keep on Walking

  1. I’m not sure why you think this is a problem for evolutionary biologists. Nobody ever presumes our knowledge of our evolutionary past is complete. Only a small percentage of animals that live end up fossilized, and we often work with incomplete information. Lucy is one of the first fossils found that showed an ancient primate with distinctively human characteristics, but no one’s ever assumed she’d be the last word. We ample proof of common ancestry through a variety of fossils and molecular genetics. Revising the exact shape of the tree of life, like learning that a certain trait evolved earlier than we previously thought, does not in any way contradict this fact.

    I wonder if you’ve ever read an issue of Scientific American, or even watched “Becoming Human” on Nova? Because the kind of issues you think are problematic for scientists are discussed all the time.

    Since you believe in “design”, you can just take whatever information is available and retroactively agree that your designer would, like, of course, have done it that way. You’re just riding the coattails of people who are much smarter than you.

  2. jackhudson says:

    I have been familiar with the idea that Australopithecines are our ancestors since I was about ten – and I have been watching NOVA and reading SciAm almost as long.

    I am simply pointing out that based on the current research of the Laetoli footprints, Lucy appears not to be ancestral to humans. And the footprints indicate human history is quite different than current human evolutionary models suggest.

    How smart you think I am or am not is irrelevant to these points of course, but I know it is impossible for you to respond without adding an Ad Hom, so I will take it accordingly.

  3. Nate says:

    Mike, I’m glad to hear you say that only a small percentage end up fossilized. Every single time I make that point, and say that the fossil record is not and never will be complete, I get a bunch of flak for it.

    That said, the fossil record is much more complete now than in Darwin’s day, but still, as a person who went to school to dig stuff up (picked a different path than archeology in the end, but hey, what can you do?) it frustrates me to hear people try and declare that the fossil record is in anyway nearing completion.

  4. justin says:

    Nobody ever presumes our knowledge of our evolutionary past is complete.

    This is correct, but is not even remotely accurate with respect to what the scientific community presents. In fact, your statement is laughable. How many times have scientists found a “missing human link” where the story appears on the cover of not less than 10 prominent scientific magazines (including NG, SA, etc.)? Only later, in the back page article or letter to the editor, or in some other obscure location or journal, are the findings that X species was not, after all, an ancestor of humans to be found.

    The scientific establishment is constantly eager to hide their mistakes and hedge their bets with claims such as “well, we never said that our knowledge was complete”. Over and over and over this happens. To the public, it costs them their credibility.

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