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Palaeontology

Footprints Indicate Upright Walking 1.5m Years Ago

by on Mar.03, 2009, under Palaeontology

FootprintFossil footprints found in Kenya have revealed our ancestors were moving around much as we do today, over 1.5 million years ago.

Students from the Koobi Fora Field School excavated the footprints between 2006 and 2008. Along with the prints of many animals, they found three sets of human-like footprints. One was probably a child’s tracks.

The prints were made in fine sand on what was once a riverbank. The sand had been sandwiched between layers of volcanic ash. Scientists estimate the height of the adults to be about 5ft 9in from the stride length.

David Braun, an archaeologist from the University of Cape Town in South Africa, told Reuters:

“It was kind of creepy excavating these things to see all of a sudden something that looks so dramatically like something that you yourself could have made 20 minutes earlier in some kind of wet sediment just next to the site.

“These could quite easily have been made on the beach today.

An international team, led by Professor Matthew Bennett from Bournemouth University in England, has studied the footprints. They published their conclusions in Science last week.Professor Bennett says:

“Our findings from Ileret show that by 1.5 million years ago, these individuals had evolved an essentially modern human foot function and a style of two-footed locomotion that we would recognize today.

“Foot bones are rarely preserved because they are small, encased in flesh, and easily consumed by carnivores.

“Consequently, our knowledge of foot anatomy and function in our early ancestors is poor. Fossil footprints are rare but when they are found, they provide an invaluable line of evidence.

By finding the age of the surrounding ash layers, scientists were able to estimate the age of the footprints to about 1.51 million to 1.53 million years old. They conclude that the prints were likely to have been made by the early hominid Homo ergaster or early Homo erectus. Homo sapiens or modern man first appeared 200,000 years ago.

John Harris, a paleoanthropologist at Rutgers University in New Jersey, USA is one or of the co-authors of the Science paper. He told the National Geographic:

The ancient footprints indicate a rounded heel, pronounced arch and a big toe parallel to the other toes just as modern humans have. The big toes of chimpanzees, by contrast, splay outward, which is useful for grasping branches.

“We’ve lost that, but what we’ve created is a platform from which we can step up on and balance ourselves on and push off on in bipedal locomotion.

Image courtesy of Matthew Bennett/Bournemouth University

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Ancient Ancestor Gives Insight into Evolution

by on Jun.20, 2008, under Newsflash, Palaeontology

From the University of St Andrews

Lancelet, a small marine animal that spends most of its life buried in the sand is unwittingly helping scientists understand the evolution of humans.

The tiny creature is enabling scientists at the University of St Andrews to piece together the ancestral starting point from which it and humans evolved, despite this ancestor having lived 550 million years ago

Read more on the University of St Andrews web site…

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New Photos of Phobos

by on Apr.11, 2008, under Around the Solar System, Palaeontology

NASA today released two high-resolution images of the larger of Mars’ two moons, Phobos. The High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter took the on Mar. 23, 2008.

Phobos

HiRISE took the images within 10 minutes of each other. The first image was taken at a range of about 4,200 miles; the second was taken at a distance of about 3,600 miles. The images are coloured by combining data from the camera’s blue-green, red and near-infrared channels.

The illuminated part of Phobos seen in the images is about 13 miles across. The most prominent feature in the images is the large crater Stickney in the lower right. With a diameter of 5.6 miles, it is the largest feature on Phobos.

NASA launched MRO in Aug. 2005 and entered Mars orbit in Mar. 2006. It is currently mapping the Martian surface looking for landing sites for future missions.

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