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Who Made Tanzania's "Laetoli A" Footprints?

Friday, December 3, 2021

Tanzania Laetoli FootprintATHENS COUNTY, OHIO—Live Science reports that a new analysis of five consecutive fossilized footprints at the site of Laetoli in northern Tanzania suggests they may have been left behind by an unknown hominin with an unusual cross-stepping gait. These prints, known as “Laetoli A,” had previously been thought to have been made by a bear walking on its hind legs, while other tracks at the site have been attributed to Australopithecus afarensis. Biological anthropologist Ellison McNutt of Ohio University and her colleagues re-excavated the well-preserved prints and measured, photographed, and took 3-D scans of them. The researchers then compared the prints with tracks made by humans, chimpanzees, and semiwild juvenile black bears at a bear rescue and rehabilitation center. They found that although the Laetoli A footprints are unusually wide and short, they look more like hominin prints than those left behind by bears, which are fanlike with tapering heels, McNutt explained. Hominin prints are squared off and feature a prominent big toe and a wide heel. And while thousands of fossils have been found at Laetoli, she added, none of them are from bears. The hominin that left these prints may have shared the landscape with Australopithecus afarensis, McNutt concluded. For more, go to "Proof in the Prints."

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