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    marc verhaegen

    Great discovery, but (as so often in paleo-anthropology) the interpretations are anthropocentric: “there were also tracks from an animal similar to a gazelle around them, suggesting perhaps our early ancestors were on a hunting expedition.” They reason: erectus’ footprints resemble ours, we can walk & run bipedally (although only about half as fast as horses, dogs or ostriches), therefore H.erectus walked & ran like we do, they conclude. This is wishful thinking. African apes before birth also have humanlike feet, e.g. “The embryo of a chimpanzee at one stage has a foot resembling that of man … Only as it approaches its birth does its foot acquire the appearance of a hand …” (C.Coon). IOW, a humanlike foot does not discern Homo from Pan. It might also suggest that chimps & bonobos had more bipedal ancestors. Lowland gorillas & bonobos are bipedal when they wade in forest swamps, e.g. for floating vegetation such as waterlilies, papyrus sedges etc., google: gorilla bai, or: bonobo wading. Cursorial animals have very long & strong middle pedal rays (e.g. ostrich), whereas wading & swimming animals have flatter feet with long & strong outer digital rays, like ours. IOW, our feet were probably originally adapted to wading or swimming, and are only secondarily adapted to more walking & running. The Eritrean footprints are found at a lake, exactly where we predicted them to be, google: econiche Homo. Anatomically, erectus was very unlike hunting animals. Comparative data suggest they collected shallow aquatic & waterside foods, including shellfish, which are richest in brain-specific nutrients (DHA, S.Cunnane 2005 “Survival of the fattests”).

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      Shel Silver

      Dear NH & Readers,
      Most of Mr. Verhaegen’s response is fascinating news to me. I wonder just how widely held & scientificly valid are his views re the evolutionary function, origin, & precedence of hominid feet?
      Shel Silver
      Near Chicago, IL.

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        It is not entirely correct – one cannot say that as embryonic chimps have human-like feet “a humanlike foot does not discern Homo from Pan.” Otherwise the fact that both human embryos and monkeys have tails would mean that we cannot use lack of tails to distinguish Homo from Macaca. As to the specifics of his claims I don’t know enough about the subject to claim either way, but I do note that that is the only area of his comment not supported by references. There is one argument (see the aquatic ape theory) that humans evolved as swimmers and waders, but I believe the mainstream view is that we evolved on plains.

        Hope this is helpful to you.

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About the author

Ginger Perales

Ginger Perales

When Ginger's original dream of writing the next great American novel didn’t quite work out she turned her thoughts to math and science. She earned a Bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering, after which she spent 18 years employed with a city public works department which allowed her to write the great American mortgage check. But that's all behind her now (except for the mortgage) since she seized the opportunity to start a freelance writing career - can the novel be far behind? She lives in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States with her husband of 26 years (talk about history!) and when not at the computer enjoys cheering for her favorite football teams, home improvement projects and a good mystery novel. Her favorite points in History are those when engineering had a profound effect on the people of the time, from the Roman aqueduct of Segovia, c. A.D. 50, to the Panama Canal, c. 1914, to whatever's next.

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