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Ancient fingerprints indicate that another hominin species lived alongside Lucy

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Jillian Castillo
Jillian Castillo
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One of the mysterious fingerprints the researchers re-examined (left) compared to that of A. Avensis (right) – © Ellison McNutt et al. / Nature 2021

A group of 3.7 million year old footprints, believed to be a crawling bear on its hind legs behind, was recently re-examined and attributed to a mysterious species of hominin.

fruitful review

The footprints were originally discovered in 1976 by Peter Jones And Philip Leakey. During the excavations carried out at site A of to take over, employment TanzaniaThey identified five footprints left in fine volcanic ash that then solidified. It was suggested at that time that they belong to a hominidsHowever, subsequent studies concluded that they were in fact left by a bear walking on its hind legs.

Later, other footprints that actually belonged to hominins were identified a few kilometers away, at site G. The track stretched for 24 meters and included footprints left 3.66 million years ago. Years ago by three individuals, perhaps a species Australopithecus afarensisthat belong to the celebrity Lucy.

In the course of a recent work published in the magazine temper natureAnd Ellison McNutt and colleagues fromOhio University He re-examined Site A and performed a 3D scan of the footprints, which were then compared to those of humans, chimpanzees and American black bears.

Left: Ellison McNutt collecting data on a young female black bear (Ursus americanus) walking on her hind legs. Right: Footprints of a young black bear – © Ellison McNutt et al. / Nature 2021

« The bear hypothesis made perfect sense at the time, given the unusual nature of the footprints, but the sediment covering them had not been removed properly, so their actual shape was not known. The researcher explains. ” Several elements show that they clearly belong to hominins, notably the relatively large toes that are relatively larger than the latter, a feature not found in bears.. »

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“It’s not afarensis”

The study authors also claim that the footprints do not match the more well-known traces at site G, meaning they were left by different and mysterious species of hominins. The individual footprints at site A were relatively broad in relation to their length, compared to those at site G, and the individual also appeared to possess an unusual gait, similar to that of models flexing with one foot directly in front of the other.

« It’s not afarensis “, Confirms I made. « It’s definitely another type of Australopithecus or something very close. With clear evidence that many hominin species coexisted in the same areas previously discovered in Africa, the fact that the same is true in Latoli would not be surprising.. »

The five footprints from site A (a and b) Latoli in northern Tanzania (c) and topographic measurements of the footprints A2 (d) and A3 (e) – © Ellison McNutt et al. / Nature 2021

In 2016, two more hominin copies were found at a third (S) site in to take over. In different sizes, these are attached a. afarensis According to the team behind the discovery, the species may also have left recently re-examined traces of Site A.

« A recent study showed that it takes more than 20 footprints to get a reliable picture of how an object is moving, and that Site A has only five footprints. ‘, he explains Marco Sherin from the University of Perugia, Italy.

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