Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Giving Lucy a foot to walk on

New fossil evidence from Hadar, Ethiopia suggests that Australopithecus afarensis, the humanoid species thought to have existed between about 2.9 and 3.7 million years ago, had the first modern feet. The fossilized bone researchers found is the fourth metatarsal, a bone that connects a human’s heel with the fourth toe. According to Carol Ward, an anthropologist at the University of Missouri, the fossil supports the claim that the foot of Australopithecus, the group the famous Lucy came from, was human-like and therefore that Lucy and her kind had given up living in trees.

Commenting on the study, Prof. Chris Stringer, a paleoanthropologist at London’s Natural History Museum, said although this bone provides evidence that Australopithecus had a similar foot anatomy to humans, the bone’s function is highly debatable. Stringer claimed that even if the bone’s purpose were similar to that of Homo sapiens, Australopithecines were only at the very beginning of the evolution of the modern foot.

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