Foot find shows pre-humans walked

2012-03-29 08:12

Los Angeles - Lucy, it turns out, had company - another pre-human that also walked but spent more of its time in trees.

Until now, there was no proof of another human relative living around the same time as the species made famous by the Lucy skeleton. But a fossil discovery reveals there was another creature around three million years ago and it gives new insight into the evolution of a key human trait - walking on two legs.

The creature came to light when an international team of researchers unearthed a partial foot in eastern Africa. Like Lucy, it walked upright, but had a grasping foot that it used to climb tree branches. Scientists said it's now clear that various human relatives experimented with upright walking.

"This is just another window into solving the problem of how we got from a primitive foot to the modern human foot," said Bruce Latimer of Cleveland's Case Western Reserve University, who helped discover the fossil remains.

Various hominin species have co-existed throughout human evolutionary history, but this is the first sign of another during Lucy's time.

So what was this tree-climbing and ground-dwelling creature? Scientists don't yet know because no skull or teeth have been recovered to make a determination. But it's clear the foot did not come from Lucy's species, Australopithecus afarensis.


It's rare to find pre-human feet because bones are fragile and don't preserve well. So American and Ethiopian scientists led by the Cleveland Museum of Natural History were excited when they excavated eight foot and toe bones in 2009 in the remote Afar region of Ethiopia, about 50km north of where Lucy was discovered in 1974.

By analysing the bone structure and dating the surrounding dirt, the team concluded the fragments came from the right forefoot of a human relative that lived 3.4 million years ago. While Lucy had humanlike feet, this creature was less advanced.

The discovery was detailed in Thursday's issue of the journal Nature. The authors did not name the new species because they know so little about it.

"This find is the first good evidence that there was a second, different species lineage" at that time, said Tim White, director of the Human Evolution Research Centre at the University of California, Berkeley, who had no role in the discovery.

The ability to walk upright is a key feature that separates humans from other great apes. That a different human relative ambled around the same period as Lucy suggests upright walking evolved more than once, scientists said.

Bipedalism "was a complicated affair and not just a 'one-off' occurrence", William Harcourt-Smith of the American Museum of Natural History in New York, who was not part of the study, said in an e-mail.

Over the past millions of years, the human foot has changed to give us a springy step. We have a stout big toe that lines up with the other toes. We also have a stable heel and an arch that distributes our weight when we walk, run or jump.


The new specimen's foot resembled that of Ardi, short for Ardipithecus ramidus, a species that lived a million years earlier than Lucy in what is now Ethiopia. But scientists don't know whether it is a descendant or close relative.

Like Ardi, its big toe is set apart from the rest of its foot, allowing it to grip tree branches, and it had no arch. There are signs in the bones and joints that it walked on two legs - at least some of the time. Instead of pushing off from the big toe like modern human, it took off from the outside of its feet.

Scientists said it's hard to glean what its stride was like without knowing the shape of its ankles, knees and hips. But it likely was not very efficient and moved around awkwardly. Without a foot arch, it also could not travel as far as Lucy.

While the 1.06m Lucy spent some time in the forest, her vastly different feet meant that she was better adapted and more comfortable wandering around open fields than the newly discovered creature was.

Lucy discoverer Donald Johanson called the new find "one of those fascinating evolutionary experiments" that tried walking but never fully committed.

It "didn't seem to want to make up its mind whether it wants to live in the trees or on the ground", said Johanson, founding director of the Institute of Human Origins at Arizona State University.

What are the chances the two interacted? If they met, scientists said they probably did not socialise, given their different lifestyles.

"They went on with their own lives," Johanson said.

  • Peter-Peter - 2012-03-29 08:46

    If the human race still exists in a million years, i wonder what the people of then will think of our fossils? will it be: 'Ha! these people had NO feathers!' 'Ha! This midget has size 13 feet!' 'Ha! These people only used 10% of their brains!' 'Ha! These people thought there was GOD?' 'Ha! These people didnt have gills?'

      Matewis - 2012-03-29 08:55

      I suspect they will be most suprised to find mercury in our teeth...

      NrGx - 2012-03-29 10:14

      Well carbon dating is not actually accurate, it can, and is most likely, is off the mark by hundreds of years. However, a hundred years off is not a lot when considering it goes back millions of years, dont you think.

      mbossenger - 2012-03-29 12:24

      NrGx - carbon dating is accurate, but only to about 50,000 years or so, due to the half life decay of C14 to C12. However there are other dating techniques that span longer periods of time.

      zaatheist - 2012-03-29 14:05

      @Meme I agree that these scientists are lying. Just because a scientist gives an explanation doesn’t mean it is right. That is why science has constantly changed over the years. Only God’s explanation doesn’t change. To really understand the history of evolution, we have to understand the author. Satan is the master-mind behind this false doctrine....Satan, in the form of the serpent, brought the doctrine of evolution to the Garden of Eden. - Kent Hovind

      Keith - 2012-04-07 08:20

      So was zaatheist

  • shawnbrownphoto - 2012-03-29 09:01

    And these people call themselves Scientists? I thought Science is based on proven fact. What scientists call 'Evolution' is nothing more than a guessing game based on wild imaginations. Seems most of the Evolutionists have greater faith than creationists that believe in intelligent design, as it seems there is no intelligence allowed when it comes to believing fairy tales such as the 'theory of evolution'.

      planetdonovan - 2012-03-29 09:33

      You're right, this is probably just the latest in a long line of frauds perpetrated by the scientific community for the express purpose of undermining your faith. Stay strong, brother.

      Matewis - 2012-03-29 09:39

      It just occured to me - I know why you guys are so resentful of science : its 2012 and there is still no flying cars! I mean look at Bladerunner - that takes place in 2019, just 7 more years! we'll get right on it promise! then we can all be friends again...

      Bob - 2012-03-29 09:53

      see meme's comment above

      NrGx - 2012-03-29 10:07

      Heck, if only human kind had consulted you first, we could have saved millions in research. "to believing fairy tales such as the 'theory of evolution'... As opposed to "believing / having faith" in what? A book full of fairy tails? Im also guessing you would say "God" put fossils on earth to test your faith?

      Franco - 2012-03-29 11:12

      Theory of evolution, phaah. Are they the same stupid scientists that believe in the theory of gravity, the theory of relativity, germ theory, molacular theory, quantum theory, Hodge theory ....? "Who needs all that stuff?" he says as he rolls up this note and straps it to the pigeon.

      Franco - 2012-03-29 11:24

      Shawn, you think evolutionists are bad, you should hear how gravitationists argue and hypothsise about gravity. They still haven't figured it out yet, and keep guessing about what happens at molacular level. If only they had the faith of creationists then they would realise that its simply itelligent design at atomic level.

      planetdonovan - 2012-03-29 11:46

      Franco, THEY may not have figured it out yet, but WE know that gravity is caused by the Flying Spaghetti Monster pushing down on us.

      Mike - 2012-03-29 11:56

      Shawn studied at rhema church which has far more credibility than learned scientist and also makes him a graduate with a degree in bullsshyte. Shawn keep the faith don't let pesky stuff like evidence and knowledge get in your way. Let us all praise blind faith and ignorance because it's a wonderful virtue.

      Franco - 2012-03-29 12:10

      Donovan, if your theory is true, then why does your FSM push down harder on fat people, and not at all on birds? Gotcha. It all goes back to ID.

      planetdonovan - 2012-03-29 12:15

      Franco, clearly the pushing is a measure of his love, and he loves fat people the most. As for the birds, he is lifting them with his noodly appendages. It's so obvious... DUH!

      mbossenger - 2012-03-29 12:27

      "I thought Science is based on proven fact" - it's based on evidence, you should read up on it a bit, it's actually quite interesting... You really need to read up on the "Expelled" movie you seem to be referencing. The movie was a fraud and misrepresented the facts rather badly...

      Mathys - 2012-03-29 14:54

      Umm franco, you need to do more research. Einstein's theory of general relativity is A theory of gravity. The most supported theory that states that mass bends space-time. That bending of space-time is seen as gravity. It gives an explanation as to what gravity is. You're thinking of the newtonian laws of gravity.

      zaatheist - 2012-03-29 16:00

      I have not had such fun reading the comments for a long time. Bravo planetdonovan, Matewis, Franco and Danieldennet. Priceless.

      Keith - 2012-04-07 08:26

      So, SarcasticAgnostic, space/time bends round fat people to keep them on the ground, if this is so my thin wife should be able to fly. I think I should anchor her to the ground.

  • Carl - 2012-03-29 13:36

    would like to see you work on getting from non self-replication to self-replication....

      zaatheist - 2012-03-29 14:08

      Say what? Who?

  • zaatheist - 2012-03-29 14:39

    What is most noticeable about the anti-evolution, creationist sky fairy brigade is that they nay say the scientific evidence for evolution but never, ever can produce evidence for their own version for how life began on earth of for their Adam and Eve story. Because, of course, they have none. So they copy and paste ridiculous arguments from cretinous web sites in the hope that that will suffice to prove evolutionary science wrong. While they continually claim that because scientists do not have the answers for everything therefore their gods did it then, with each new discovery and each new proven scientific explanation, their gods just become ever receding pockets of scientific ignorance.

      Carl - 2012-03-29 17:31

      zaatheist, Theistic evolutionists...? Metaphysical naturalism as the real issue, not evolutionary theory per se...? even methodological naturalism as an obstacle to true discovery and knowledge...? anyway..... may i ask, as an atheist, do you agree that you are taking a particular stance about the way things are? You are making a claim. Surely, if your position is to qualify as a RATIONAL one, it must be based on rational grounds ie -there must be good REASONS for saying "atheism is true". Your case, if it is to be a rational one, should be based on philosophical and/or empirical grounds. I'd be interested to hear your reasons for the contention "atheism is true". Don't say the burden is on the theist...that is debatable and doesn't establish your case.

      zaatheist - 2012-03-29 19:49

      Ag crap. Atheism is simply the non belief in gods. Atheism has no philosophy or doctrine. So there is no "truth" in atheism. The onus is on you, the believers and peddlers of an invisible supernatural entity to prove that it in fact exists. If you cannot produce compelling evidence for your god (and you know you cannot) then I have no reason to listen to you. My irony meter just broke (again) because of your use of the word "rational". Using full caps to write "RATIONAL" add no value to silly assertions. And may I make one suggestion? If you cannot provide credible evidence and all you got is: "This is where my faith in God comes into play," just write that we can all move on. So far all I see is someone who's got no answers, and a butt-load of attitude.

      Franco - 2012-03-30 06:58

      Carl, I can prove atheism is true as follows: ATHEISM IS TRUE. no need for REASONS, no need for PROOF - sound familiar ?

      Mathys - 2012-03-30 11:00

      Franco, thank you for pointing out the hypocrisy behind atheism.

      Carl - 2012-03-30 13:20

      zaatheist, a)Atheism is true OR b)Atheism is false There is no other option So if you believe (a) that atheism is true, you no doubt have reasons for saying atheism is true? Otherwise how could you say your claim is a rational one? This is really not difficult to understand. The theist establishes the claim "Theism is true" on several different grounds, making it a rational claim. We still haven't been offered a single reason in suport of the contention that atheism is true....

      Franco - 2012-03-30 14:13

      I cannot prove that atheism is true, nor can I prove that the non-belief in Santa is true, nor can I prove that unicorns do not exist, nor can I prove that Vishnu does not exist. So I am left with the dilemma - do I believe they all exist, or should I make a reasonable assumption until such time that evidence emerges. Dunno hey .... difficult one !

      Carl - 2012-03-30 17:18

      not asking you to prove it Franco, just give some good reasons for saying that atheism is true....

      Franco - 2012-04-02 07:02

      Carl, exactly the same reasons that you have for not believing in santa - exactly the same.

      Carl - 2012-04-02 17:36

      really Franco? you actually apply the same criteria to a fat man in a red suit as you do for the eternal, omnipotent, spiritual, creator of the universe? well that kind of explains it...

      Keith - 2012-04-07 08:34

      Of course there is an answer - the Bible. I could quote from that for hours until you give up your evil ways. And if you are not convinced then I will claim that my God has all the answers, just embrace him. On a different note, I wish all people who write comments would take a lesson from the King James version of the Bible; there are seldom any words longer that two syllables and the style of writing is superb, and no F word insults either.

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