The oldest human footprints – left more than 1.5 million years ago – have been discovered in northern Kenya.
Two sets of prints left by Homo ergaster, an early ancestor of modern humans. were found in separate rock layers near Ileret.
Laser scanning revealed that feet have stayed much the same over 1.5 million years and the creature walked the same way as people do today.
The prints bore all the hallmarks of a modern human stride, including an arched foot, short toes, and a big toe that was parallel to the other toes.
As in modern humans, weight was transferred from the heel to the ball of the foot and then to the big toe with each step.
The find is the first of its kind since the famous discovery 30 years ago of footprints dating back 3.75 million years at Laetoli, Tanzania.
These older prints are thought to have been left by the more primitive and apelike Australopithecus.
Although this creature also appears to have walked upright, it had a shallow arch and a splayed big toe characteristic of apes.
The Ileret prints, pressed into solidified layers of ancient mud, consisted of an upper and lower set five metres apart.
The top layer contained three trails – two of two prints each, one of seven prints, and a number of isolated prints.
The deeper layer preserved one trail of two prints and a single isolated smaller print that may have been left by a child.
Scientists led by Dr Matthew Bennett, from the University of Bournemouth in Poole, scanned the prints and compared them with those of modern humans and the Laetoli prints.
They wrote in the journal Science: “The Ileret prints show that by 1.5 million years, hominids had evolved an essentially modern human foot function and style of bipedal locomotion.”
Homo ergaster, often known as early Homo erectus, was the first “human” to have long legs and short arms like modern Homo sapiens.
Various remains of H. ergaster/erectus have been found in Tanzania, Kenya, and South Africa, where human beings first evolved.
Last Updated: 8:46AM GMT 27 Feb 2009
Source: The Telegraph