Scientists say footprints left behind 3.7 million years ago were made by a man 1.65 meters tall.
He stood a majestic 1.65 meters, weighed around 45 kilograms and maybe had a harem. That’s what scientists figure from the footprints he left behind some 3.7 million year ago.
He’s evidently the tallest known member of the prehuman species best known for the fossil skeleton nicknamed “Lucy”, reaching a stature no other member of our family tree matched for another 1.5 million years, the researchers say.
The 14 footprints are impressions left in volcanic ash that later hardened into rock, excavated last year in northern Tanzania in Africa. Their comparatively large size, averaging a bit over 26 centimeters, suggest they were made by a male member of the species known as Australopithecus afarensis.
The prints were found at a site called Laetoli, which is famous for another set of smaller footprints left by other Australopithecus afarensis individuals. Those made headlines in the 1970s as the earliest clear evidence of upright walking by our ancestors. The newly discovered prints are only about 150 meters away.
Researchers named the new creature S1, for the first discovery made at the “S’’ site. From the footprints, they were able to calculate the weight and height.
They figured that he loomed at least 20 centimeters above the individuals who made the other tracks, and stood maybe 7 centimeters taller than a large Australopithecus afarensis specimen previously found in Ethiopia. “Lucy”, also from Ethiopia, was much shorter at about 1.07m.
Nobody knows the ages or sexes of any of the track-makers, although the size of the latest footprints suggest they were made by a male. It’s quite possible that the new discovery means Australopithecus afarensis males were a lot bigger than females.
The large male-female disparity suggests Australopithecus afarensis may have had a social arrangement of one dominant male with a group of females and their offspring.
But not everybody agrees with their analysis of S1’s height.
Anthropologist William Jungers, a research associate at the Association Vahatra in Madagascar, said scientists haven’t recovered enough of an Australopithecus afarensis foot to reliably calculate height from footprints.
This illustration provided by Dawid A. Iurino shows a reconstruction of the northern Tanzanian Laetoli site 3.66 million years ago, where 14 footprints from a human ancestor, believed to be Australopithecus afarensis, were found.