Archeology Science

Discovered Footprints In Tanzania Stir Debate Over Our Ancestor’s Sex Lives

Whether you are an amateur paleontologist, a researcher or an enthusiast of fossil life, you must be well aware of the treasure of Tanzania. Tanzania is a country known for the abundance in paleontological sites.

Hence, it was not a surprise when a new set of footprints was found in Laetoli. These date back to almost more than 3.6 million years ago, belonging to the early human ancestors.

prehistoric-footprints-in-tanzania-speak-loudly-about-human-ancestorsRichard Mortel (Image Source)

An interesting story

Every new discovery has some interesting story behind it, and this one is not aloof from it. In the year 2015, two Tanzanian archeologists Fidelis Masao and Elgidius Ichumbaki, associated with University of Dar es Salaam, were analyzing the prospective of fabricating a museum on the Lateoli site. It was here they found the new footprints.

Later, a team of Italian scientists was welcomed to the site for more analysis and excavation. The footprints were revealed to the public in the year 2016, July.

What does the footprint indicate?

So, there are 14 newfound footprints. There is likability that these prints belong to 2 individuals of Australopithecus afarensis. The paleoanthropologists are pretty excited about these largest set of footprints.

Briana Pobiner, Smithsonian Institution’s Human Origins Program, who was not a part of the study of the footprint, says: “I’m really excited about the fact that more footprints have been found at Laetoli,” he further adds-“It’s the oldest footprint site in human evolutionary history.”

Hominin tracks at Laetoli, in Tanzania, were made about 3.6 million years ago (left). Computer models of the ancient footprints can be compared with that of a modern human to study gait (right). Left: John Reader/Science Source; Right: M. Bennett Et Al. J. R. Soc. Interface 2012 9 707-719
Hominin tracks at Laetoli, in Tanzania, were made about 3.6 million years ago (left). Computer models of the ancient footprints can be compared with that of a modern human to study gait (right).
Left: John Reader/Science Source; Right: M. Bennett Et Al. J. R. Soc. Interface 2012 9 707-719

Some interesting aspects about the footprints are:

  • Amongst the footprints found, there is one individual which has the large strides. It suggests that he was more than 5.5 feet tall. This makes him one of the largest A. afarensis individuals, yet found.
  • This indicates that the males and females of A. afarensis have different body types, implying the trait of sexual dimorphism.
  • Yet again, some researchers are interpreting the same in a different way. Cherin and his co-associates noted that the newfound footprint belongs to the same ash layer and orientation as the tracks which belonged to those found in 1978. This indicates to the existence of one adult male, 2-3 adult females and 2-3 juveniles. They also said that there is a possibility that multiple female shared one male mate back then.

The unfurling continues

However, there are the researchers which do not accept the above hypothesis at all. Somehow, they do not accept the fact that one can distinguish between adult female and large juvenile just by the footprints.

So, in the same context Paleoanthropologist Owen Lovejoy, Kent State University, writes in an email: “The size variation they report has no bearing on sexual dimorphism, since we don’t know the age of any of the footprint makers.”

Manzi and Cherin are working on returning to Laetoli for more prints. “The footprints just published are simply what emerged from three small trenches,” writes Manzi. “There are certainly more tracks of this kind that are waiting for us to bring them to light.”

Immense interpretations are still waiting to be pursued. More then definitely the scientists and researchers will make sure to come to a well studied conclusion in the coming years.

featured image: source

Discovered Footprints In Tanzania Stir Debate Over Our Ancestor’s Sex Lives
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