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A new study, based on a famous set of fossilized footprints in Africa (pictured), shows that Australopithecus likely walked upright, like modern man.  (Source: John Reader/Photo Researchers)

However, Australopithecus's long body and stubby legs would make it ill-suited for a footrace with a human.  (Source: BBC)
Man's ancestors were standing and walking tall -- more so than previously realized

Evolutionary biologists and paleontologists admit there's a lot they don't know, but they've also made remarkable progress [1][2][3][4][5][6] in recent years.  From multiple hominid fossil discoveries [1][2][3] filling in mankind's "family tree", to direct observations of evolution, the field is seeing a veritable renaissance.

The fascinating discoveries continue with a study [abstract] published this month in the peer-reviewed journal Interface.  The work examines the footprints of Australopithecus afarensis, an early hominid and presumed ancestor of Homo sapiens.

It comes to the surprising conclusion that previous work -- which asserted that up to around 1.9 million years ago hominids likely walked in a crouched position, before undergoing a transition to upright posture -- was likely flawed.  

The new study found that the Laetoli footprints, found in the volcanic ash of the nearby Sadiman Volcano in Tanzania (east Africa) show arguably that hominids walked upright far longer ago than previously thought.

The study comments:
It was previously thought that Australopithecus afarensis walked in a crouched posture, and on the side of the foot, pushing off the ground with the middle part of the foot, as today's great apes do. We found, however, that the Laetoli prints represented a type of bipedal walking that was fully upright and driven by the front of the foot, particularly the big toe, much like humans today, and quite different to bipedal walking of chimpanzees and other apes.

Quite remarkably, we found that some healthy humans produce footprints that are more like those of other apes than the Laetoli prints. The foot function represented by the prints is therefore most likely to be similar to patterns seen in modern-humans. This is important because the development of the features of human foot function helped our ancestors to expand further out of Africa.
The new work was thoroughly vetted by a team of renowned Ph.D researchers from the University of Liverpool, University of Manchester, and University of Bournemouth.

The footprints were first discovered in 1976 by distinguished paleoanthropologist Mary Leakey.  They were dated to be 3.7 million years old, using the potassium-argon method (K/Ar), which allows the age of volcanic sediments to be estimated accurately to within a statistical window of a couple thousand years.

The remarkable discovery was made possible by the fortunate tendency of rain to turn loose volcanic ash to tuff, a rocky deposit.

The footprints were significant in that they showed no signs of handprints, which would indicate that Australopithecus walked with the assistance of its arms, like an ape.  Upright posture is seen as a distinguishing factor between hominids -- like humans, neanderthals, and Australopithecus -- versus apes and monkeys.

The new study suggests upright bipedalism could have evolved around the time that the earliest hominids descended from trees to roam the ground on two feet.  It comments:
Our work demonstrates that many of these features evolved nearly four million years ago in a species that most consider to be partially tree-dwelling. These findings show support for a previous study at Liverpool that showed upright bipedal walking originally evolved in a tree-living ancestor of living great apes and humans.
The study goes on to say that while bipedal, Australopithecus wouldn't be on a level playing field in a race with a modern human.  The team writes:
Australopithecus afarensis, however, was not modern in body proportions of the limbs and torso.

The characteristic long-legged, short body form of the modern human allows us to walk and run great distances, even when carrying heavy loads. Australopithecus afarensis had the reverse physical build, short legs and a long body, which makes it probable that it could only walk or run effectively over short distances.
While the location of the first primates (circa 35-40 million years ago) and the first humans (circa 500,000 years ago) are still the topic of active debate, most evidence points to the first hominids as having evolved in Africa, around 4-5 million years ago.

Now yet another piece of the puzzle has fallen into place.


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RE: Round 10!
By michael67 on 7/21/2011 7:11:53 AM , Rating: 2
The funny thing is if you would have come with "Intelligent *cough* Design" in the time of Galileo, you would properly would have bin banished sooner then Galileo him self. ^_^

"Intelligent Design" is designed to fit the facts, that the bible dose not support, just to keep the warm fuzzy feeling alive that there is a God, for the ignored masses that cant think for them self.

And yes I am a believer of evolution, and no I don't believe in God, but my wife dose and she also thinks "Intelligent Design" is just made up stuff to fit the facts.


RE: Round 10!
By The Raven on 7/21/2011 12:55:19 PM , Rating: 3
quote:
I am a believer of evolution

You seem awfully smug for someone who merely "believes" as those you mock.

I am what I guess you would call agnostic (since I don't care if there is a god) and I also BELIEVE in evolution, but would I be surprised if there was some magical unicorn that set the evolution wheels in motion? No. Nor do I care. Frankly I don't even care if we do anymore research on dinosaurs or Linkovich Chomofsky or the lot of it. It just seems like we are reaching for the "warm fuzzy feeling" that we know everything or have a complete T-rex skeleton in a costly display case along side our plates from the Franklin Mint.

But despite my agreements with you I hate when people act so smug. No wonder people think infidels like us are generally jerks.


RE: Round 10!
By JasonMick (blog) on 7/21/2011 3:40:14 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
I am what I guess you would call agnostic (since I don't care if there is a god) and I also BELIEVE in evolution, but would I be surprised if there was some magical unicorn that set the evolution wheels in motion? No. Nor do I care. Frankly I don't even care if we do anymore research on dinosaurs or Linkovich Chomofsky or the lot of it. It just seems like we are reaching for the "warm fuzzy feeling" that we know everything or have a complete T-rex skeleton in a costly display case along side our plates from the Franklin Mint.

I think you both are wrong to use the term "believe" when it comes to evolution.

You can "believe" in the scientific method, but to say you "believe in evolution" suggests it's some sort of faith, rather than its an evidence-supported finding.

It doesn't matter if you "believe" in evolution or gravity or not.

They most likely exist.

Both have a wealth of peer-reviewed literature supporting their existence and mode of operation in the natural world. In both cases intelligent researchers will freely admit that the picture is still incomplete (e.g. we still don't understand how gravity works on an extremely tiny scale, we don't understand definitively its connection to other forces, we don't understand the changes that occurred as man evolved from early primates, etc.).

But scientific minded people are (or at least should be) hesitant to use the term "believe" when it comes to science, as "belief" suggests a leap of blind faith.

No such leap of faith is required to demonstrate that evolution exists -- the scientific record is ample, there.

Use the term "hypothesis" when you're discussing an idea you wish to test, or "theory" for a thoroughly proven hypothesis, like evolution.

We reserve "belief" for the underlying faith in the scientific method, which is impossible to validate without self-deductive logic, or for matters that do not concern science, e.g. our personal faith...


RE: Round 10!
By The Raven on 7/22/2011 5:18:12 PM , Rating: 2
I believe ;-) I can agree with your comment except this part...
quote:
But scientific minded people are (or at least should be) hesitant to use the term "believe" when it comes to science, as "belief" suggests a leap of blind faith.

It may suggest blind faith but it rarely is. People believe based on things they see and experience and how they feel inside and these beliefs are sometimes even based on hard science. Though it is not as scientific it is definitely unfair to say that people who believe in god do so on blind faith. But it is more "blind" than the faith involved if you take the scientific route.

But the fact remains that for anyone who believes in evolution as an explanation of where this all started must:
1) Believe in the scientific method and the execution thereof in society (faith in others)
2) Believe that there is no god driving this all (faith in one's own deductions)

Is there less faith/belief involved? Definitely.
But the fact remains that there is still a measure of faith involved. H3ll, this article is a great example of some of the faith involved. "Upright Hominid Posture Evolved Far Earlier Than Previously Thought"...or believed. Before reading this article if I spoke to someone who subscribed to evolution they would say that ~2 mil yrs ago hominids were crouching. They would say that they believed it or they might even just state it as fact. But since this belief or 'fact' has obviously changed (or maybe not, who knows?) this shows that there is still quite a bit of belief going on in the scientific world.


RE: Round 10!
By sabbede on 7/21/2011 1:07:50 PM , Rating: 2
Funny thing, if you really think about it Intelligent Design isn't about evolution, its about the origins of the universe. If the intent was to produce humanity, then the universe was designed with that in mind... so ID advocates shouldn't be arguing with evolutionary biologists, they should be talking metaphysics and cosmology.
Of course the fact that they aren't just goes to show what the real purpose of ID is.


RE: Round 10!
By bigdawg1988 on 7/22/2011 3:20:49 PM , Rating: 2
What if the God that we believe in is just a really advanced alien who created the universe for whatever reason suited it. Better yet, maybe we're all just a science experiment by some alien high school kid. Yes, they may be normal to other aliens, but to us they'd be Gods, sort of like we probably look to a fruit fly in those genetic experiments.

As far as the Bible, how the heck would God explain the physics used to create the universe to someone who doesn't even know what molecules are? We've come quite a long ways in 6,000 years. I agree with some parts of evolution, but I'm not fully convinced it explains human origin. We have evolved, but I'm not convinced we evolved from some bacteria. Until then I'll hold onto to my antiquated beliefs and try not to look down on you for being spiritually ignorant ;) heh


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