Can we put the inanities of young earth creationism to bed now? And can we finally just admit the obvious—that, yes, we descended from ape-like ancestors?
The NY Times reports today that, in Kenya over the past three years, proto-human footprints (almost certainly belonging to the species Homo erectus) have been unearthed, and they reveal bipedal walking and running akin to modern humans.
In other words, more than a million years before there were modern Homo sapiens walking bipedally in Africa, there were Homo erectuses, with substantially smaller brains, doing so.
Put bluntly: human beings are the descendents of ape men not all that much different (in their walking or appearance) from the ones depicted in the Planet of the Apes movies.
Studying the more than a dozen erectus prints, scientists determined that the individuals had heels, insteps and toes almost identical to those in humans, and they walked with a long stride similar to human locomotion.
The researchers who made the discovery, as well as independent specialists in human origins, said the prints helped explain fossil and archaeological evidence that erectus had adapted the ability for long-distance walking and running. Erectus skeletons from East Asia revealed that the species, or a branch of it, had migrated out of Africa as early as 1.8 million years ago.
The lead author of the journal report is Matthew R. Bennett, a dean at Bournemouth University in England, who analyzed the prints with a new laser technology for digitizing their precise depths and contours. The tracks were excavated over the last three years by paleontologists and students directed by John W. K. Harris of Rutgers University in collaboration with the National Museums of Kenya.
Daniel E. Lieberman, a professor of biological anthropology at Harvard who studies the evolution of human locomotion but was not a member of the research group, said the prints established what experts had suspected for some time. Erectus, he said, “probably looked much like us, both walking and running over long distances.”
Although the discoverers were cautious in attributing the prints to Homo erectus, Dr. Lieberman and other experts said in interviews that it was highly unlikely they could have been made by other known hominid contemporaries.
“The prints are what you would expect from the erectus skeleton we have,” said Leslie C. Aiello, president of the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, which supported the research. “We are seeing erectus in motion.”
William L. Junger, a paleoanthropologist at Stony Brook University in New York, said the footprints were further evidence that erectus had “undergone a major structural change in body plan, and it’s much like our own.” One obvious exception: the erectus brain, though advanced from previous ancestors, was still well below the size of the Homo sapiens brain.
No erectus foot bones have been found anywhere, but other well-preserved skeletons showed the species to be taller and less robust than earlier hominids. The strides of these footsteps suggest that the individuals were an average of 5 feet, 7 inches tall; one, presumably a child, was 3 feet.
Read the whole article here.