An­cient clues

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE - By AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS in New York

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.

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