The Talk Origins Archive

Book ID 587

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"Laetoli footprints", Australopithecus afarensis?

Prominent Hominid Fossils

Discovered in 1978 by Paul Abell at Laetoli in Tanzania. Estimated age is 3.7 million years. The trail consists of the fossilized footprints of two or three bipedal hominids. Their size and stride length indicate that they were about 140 cm (4'8") and 120 cm (4'0") tall. Many scientists claim that the footprints are effectively identical to those of modern humans (Tattersall 1993; Feder and Park 1989), while others claim the big toes diverged slightly (like apes) and that the toe lengths are longer than humans but shorter than in apes (Burenhult 1993). The prints are tentatively assigned to A. afarensis, because no other hominid species is known from that time, although some scientists disagree with that classification.

Extract ID: 3301

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Creationist Arguments: Anomalous Fossils: Laetoli footprints

Laetoli footprints: according to most creationists, these are modern human footprints that are dated at 3.7 million years ago, long before humans were meant to exist. Creationists emphasize the close resemblance between these and modern human footprints, but often neglect to mention their extremely small size and the fact they may also be similar to the feet of the australopithecines living at the same time. Exactly how similar they are is a matter of some debate.

Tuttle (1990) thinks the footprints are too human-like to belong to A. afarensis, and suggests they may belong to another species of australopithecine, or an early species of Homo. Johanson, who has often said that Lucy was fully adapted to a modern style of bipedality, claims (Johanson and Edgar 1996) that the A. afarensis foot bones found at Hadar, when scaled down to an individual of Lucy's size, fit the prints perfectly. Stern and Susman (1983), who have argued that Lucy's foot and locomotion were bipedal but not yet fully human-like, believe that the footprints show subtle differences from human prints and could have been made by afarensis. Clarke (1999) believes that the Laetoli tracks could have been made by feet very similar to those of the new australopithecine fossil Stw 573.

In short, there is a wide range of opinions about the nature of the footprints and whether A. afarensis could have made them. Most creationists usually cite only Tuttle, whose conclusions they find most convenient. The most honest conclusion, for now, is to admit that although no-one can be entirely sure what made the Laetoli footprints, it seems quite likely that they belonged to australopithecines.

Extract ID: 3302
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