Pharyngula

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Isn’t that beautiful? It’s an ancient footprint in some lumpy rocks in Kenya…but it is 1½ million years old. It comes from the Koobi Fora formation, familiar to anyone who follows human evolution, and is probably from Homo ergaster. There aren’t a lot of them; one series of three hominin trails containing 2-7 prints, and a stratigraphically separate section with one trail of 2 prints and an isolated single print. But there they are, a preserved record of a trivial event — a few of our remote relatives taking a walk across a mudflat by a river — rendered awesome by their rarity and the magnitude of the time separating us.

Here’s one of the trails:

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(Click for larger image)

Tessellated swath of optical laser scans of the main footprint trail on the upper footprint surface at FwJj14E. Color is rendered with 5-mm isopleths.

It’s an interesting bridge across time. There they were, a couple of pre-humans out for a stroll, perhaps on their way to find something for lunch, or strolling off to urinate, probably nothing dramatic, and these few footprints were left in drying mud to be found over a million years later, when they would be scanned with a laser, digitized, and analyzed with sophisticated software, and then uploaded to a digital network where everyone in the world can take a look at them. Something so ephemeral can be translated across incomprehensible ages…I don’t know about you, but I’m wondering about the possible future fate of the debris of my life that has ended up in landfills, or the other small smudges across the landscape that I’ve left behind me.

And what have we learned? The analysis has looked at the shape of the foot, the angle of the big toe, the distribution of weight as the hominins walked across the substrate, all the anatomical and physiological details that can be possibly extracted from a few footprints.

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(Click for larger image)

Optical laser scan images color-rendered with 5-mm isopleths for footprints at both FwJj14E and GaJi10. (A) Isolated left foot (FUI1) on the upper footprint surface at FwJj14E. (B) Photograph of FUI8 on the upper footprint surface at FwJj14E, showing good definition of the toe pads; the second toe is partially obscured by the third toe. (C) Second trail on the upper footprint surface at FwJj14E, showing two left feet. (D) Third trail on the upper footprint surface at FwJj14E, showing a right and a left foot. (E) Print R3 from GaJi10 (22), re-excavated and scanned as part of this investigation. (F) Partial print (FUT1-2) on the upper footprint surface at FwJj14E; the heel area has been removed by a later bovid print. (G) Print FLI1 on the lower footprint surface at FwJj14E, rendered with 5-mm alternating black and white isopleths. (H) Inverted image of the toe area of print FUT1-1 with alternating 5-mm black and white isopleths. Note the locations of the pads of the small toes and the presence of a well-defined ball beneath the hallucial metatarsophalangeal joint. The first, third, and fifth toes are marked D1, D3, and D5, respectively.

The answer is that these beings walked just like us. The tracks are noticeably different from the even older footprints of australopithecines found at Laetoli, from 3.5 million years ago. The foot shape and the stride of Homo ergaster was statistically indistinguishable from those of modern humans, even though we know from the bones associated with these species that they were cranially distinct from us. This is not a surprise; it’s been known for a long time that we evolved these bipedal forms long ago, and that the cerebral innovations we regard as so characteristic of humanity are a relative late-comer in our history.

Remember, though, these are 1½ million years old, 250 times older than the age of the earth, according to creationists. That’s a lot of wonder and history and evidence to throw away, but they do it anyway.


Bennet MR, Harris JWK, Richmond BG, Braun DR, Mbua E, Kiura P, Olago D, Kibunjia M, Omuombo C, Behrensmeyer AK, Huddart D, Gonzalez S (2009) Early Hominin Foot Morphology Based on 1.5-Million-Year-Old Footprints from Ileret, Kenya. Science 323(5918):1197-1201.

Comments

  1. #1 Jim Anderson
    February 27, 2009

    C’mon. Admit that you cropped the photo to leave out the dinosaur tracks.

  2. #2 www.10ch.org
    February 27, 2009

    Of course, it is the young Earth creationists who deny the length of time, which composes the majority of creationists.

  3. #3 arekksu
    February 27, 2009

    i want to leave a million-year-old footprint. i don’t think a carbon footprint alone will do it. i’m off to look for some deep mud.

  4. #4 Pierre
    February 27, 2009

    I love being a scientist, because science is uplifting. Fossils are not my field, but still this makes me all fell good inside. It’s almost… religious. Ehehe. Creationists live in a perpetual fog of their own making, never able to see the beauty and grandeur of the universe as it really is, because they don’t like what we tell them they would see if they lifted the fog. Oh well.

  5. #5 toddahhhh
    February 27, 2009

    The part about the million year old footprint from a suspected urinator, being scanned by a laser tickles my naughty bits somehow.

  6. #6 Eric
    February 27, 2009

    I heard about this yesterday. It is very exciting. Thanks for posting the pics.

  7. #7 JBlilie
    February 27, 2009

    Very cool! And one of them has a L Morton’s foot, just like me! ;^)

  8. #8 Brownian
    February 27, 2009

    PZ, this post made me tear up. Awesome.

    Those of you interested in hominin evolution would do well to get your hands on The Human Career: Human Biological and Cultural Origins by Richard G. Klein. I’ve only got the ’87 first edition so I can’t vouch for this later one, but if it’s anything like the first it’s your best and most comprehensive introduction to what we know so far about these distant ancestors.

  9. #9 Glen Davidson
    February 27, 2009

    The tracks are noticeably different from the even older footprints of australopithecines found at Laetoli, from 3.5 million years ago

    Ah ha, pure human vs. pure ape.

    Where are the cloven-hooved intermediates that we demand?

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/6mb592

  10. #10 Larry
    February 27, 2009

    This kind of thing gives me the chills. I try and imagine what the world must have looked like to these beings and how they must have struggled to find their food and to keep from being turned into a snack by the resident top o’ the food chain.

    Simply extraordinary.

  11. #11 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    February 27, 2009

    Gorgeous find. The walking stride almost a meter, which is about my stride. No baby steps here. Another piece of evidence for evolution.

  12. #12 Moggie
    February 27, 2009

    Compared to this, the world of the creationists seems small, unimaginative and dull.

  13. #13 SEF
    February 27, 2009

    I’m wondering about the possible future fate of the debris of my life that has ended up in landfills

    Don’t worry, PZ, they’ll never trace that nailed cracker, loose book leaves, banana peel and coffee grounds agglomeration back to you … ;-)

  14. #14 cedgray
    February 27, 2009

    Are the 2nd and 3rd toes bunched together in that first pic?

    Literally awesome stuff.

  15. #15 Karen
    February 27, 2009

    Ooooh, one of those posts that drew me here to begin with. Love this, PZ.

  16. #16 Silver Fox
    February 27, 2009

    As a theistic evolutionist I look at this as a marvelous periscope back into human history. And I’m not willing to abandon the wonder of it all. However, lingering in the back of my mind. While, from my previous posts, the regulars here know that I am not a big fan of Vox Day, I do read him regularly mainly because he has such a great command of the English language. In one of his recent comments, he noted this, and perhaps it is part of the “back of the mind” resistance:

    “Evolutionary biologists are so mathematically and/or computer illiterate that they often don’t understand that historical backtesting is not a dependable form of proof. For example, Richard Dawkins’s Weasel program really has to be seen to be believed; it’s an amazing demonstration of the completely obvious that not only misses the point, but exposes the crudity of the thought processes behind evolutionary theory.”

  17. #17 cedgray
    February 27, 2009

    Silver Fox, can you explain how the Weasel program “completely misses the point”? Are you properly appraised of what point it was trying to make?

  18. #18 Monado
    February 27, 2009

    Brownian, thanks for the book reference! It’s been a long time since I got a comprehensive look at the state of play in human evolution.

    These footprints are beautiful. I remember reading about the first hypothesis that upright walking came first, which allowed grasping and sustained carrying and perhaps encouraged the development of bigger brains.

    I noticed they’re nice, big steps. I read once that someone striding purposefully through an office is likely going to the washroom.

  19. #19 Glen Davidson
    February 27, 2009

    A bit OT, but stupidity marches on as well:

    After the lecture, an audience member asked, ?Where are the testable predictions in intelligent design that we would expect in science??

    ?I don?t have a mechanism to substitute for the Darwinian mechanism, that?s true. But the same was true for Newton or the Big Bang Theory,? Behe answered. ?I don?t think you need a mechanism all the time in science.?

    http://www.starnewsonline.com/article/20090226/ARTICLES/902260244/1005/SPORTS?Title=Intelligent-design-speaker-Behe-draws-packed-house-at-UNCW

    While context might be missing, it looks from that as if he answered a question not asked, rather than telling us of the “predictions of ID”. Trouble is, Behe, you have neither.

    Newton did have mechanisms, though not all of them, and much of the Big Bang also has mechanism, although early Big Bang mechanism remains in question. What tardboy forgets is that he’s as much contrary to Newton as he is to Darwin, since only mechanism brings biology into Newtonian (as well as more advanced) physics.

    Total fuck-up, as usual.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/6mb592

  20. #20 Darrell E
    February 27, 2009

    I am with Brownian. This is the kind of stuff that moves me.

    No statistical difference over a span of 1.5 million years. So close, and yet so far, from us.

  21. #21 Graculus
    February 27, 2009

    he has such a great command of the English language.

    Ah-hahahahaHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

    *deep breath*

    Of course, the Reich-wing has so little familiarity with basic competence that someone who doesn’t trip over their own wobbly-dangly bits seems like a genius, but really.

    “Vox Day” and “mastery” can only be in the same breath as “tardery”.

    A prime example being the quote you put up, SilverFox.

  22. #22 Alan Kellogg
    February 27, 2009

    Pre-human? They put ergaster in another genus?

  23. #23 Ian
    February 27, 2009

    “A brief moment in the magnificent history of mankind”

    Why do you use “mankind” instead of “humankind”? Were these male footprints?

  24. #24 KI
    February 27, 2009

    Truckin’, got my chips cashed in
    Truckin’, like the doo-dah man
    Together, more or less in line
    Just keep truckin’ on

  25. #25 cedgray
    February 27, 2009

    Silver Fox: Here’s what Dawkins says, in fact:

    The program is a vivid demonstration that the preservation of small changes in an evolving string of characters (or genes) can produce meaningful combinations in a relatively short time as long as there is some mechanism to select cumulative changes, whether it is a person identifying which traits are desirable (in the case of artificial selection) or a criterion of survival (“fitness”) imposed by the environment (in the case of natural selection).

    The point is that a set of cumulative steps in any direction are always going to produce something more complex than a set of randoms steps, which will, in average, produce nothing.

    Where’s the problem?

  26. #26 Confused
    February 27, 2009

    How were they dated? I’m not quibbling, just curious about what methods were used.

    I also have to wonder how this happened. It was obviously the last time this particular mudflat got wet before it was fossilised – if it wasn’t the prints would have been washed away. Was there a drought? A lava flow? A sudden local climate change?

  27. #27 sng
    February 27, 2009

    “Vox Day, I do read him regularly mainly because he has such a great command of the English language.”

    HAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHA. Thanks for that. Always good to start the day off with a good laugh.

  28. #28 bob
    February 27, 2009

    Oh, come on now. We all know that the footprint was left in the mud after Noah’s flood subsided. Stupid Darwinists … :P

  29. #29 Patricia, OM
    February 27, 2009

    It’s hard to decide who enjoys a public lashing more, Silver Fox or Walton.

  30. #30 Don Smith, FCD
    February 27, 2009

    Methinks you have a small math problem, PZ. The actual ration of 1,500,000 to 6,000 is 250 not 2500.

    But the point still stands.

    P.S. Why would anyone read someone who uses the handle Vox Dei?

  31. #31 Scott
    February 27, 2009

    I’m with “Confused” (#26). But not only how were they formed, but how were they found? I presume the foot prints weren’t just lying about on the surface; that someone had to dig them out. I’ve never been on a dig, so I have no first hand knowledge of what the ground actually looks like close up when you’re digging for fossils. Now, fossilized bones I guess I can see. They probably look different, maybe even hold their shape separate from the surrounding matrix. But footprints? How the heck do you distinguish a subtle deformation in one layer of rock underlying another layer of very similar rock? Or are the layers similar? I presume there is some difference; that it’s easier than (for example) Michelangelo chipping away all of the marble that doesn’t look like a statue of David.

    Would the researchers have been looking for footprints, or would they have been looking for other kinds of fossils and just stumbled on the footprints?

    If anyone has some insight or a pointer into how archeologists actually recognize and unearth such things, I’d be most curious and grateful.

    Thanks.

  32. #32 Thomas R. Holtz, Jr.
    February 27, 2009

    Confused @#26

    The stratum containing the upper of the two sets of prints were deposited on top of a volcanic ashbed radiometrically dated to 1.52 Ma (million years ago), and below one dated to 1.51 – 1.52 Ma. The lower set of tracks is below that last ashbed but above one dated to 1.53 Ma.

    As with most terrestrial fossil trackways, they were formed while the sediment was still wet but drying; they subsequently dried enough to hold their shape before the next time sediment was deposited upon them. That next layer of sediment filled in the old prints and covered the old bedding plane. Environments where you get periodic deposition are pretty common: lakeshores and watering holes that expand or contract based on seasonality and storms; shores of rivers that get new deposits with floods; and so forth. It doesn’t have to be anything really dramatic.

  33. #33 Oliver
    February 27, 2009

    The point is that a set of cumulative steps in any direction are always going to produce something more complex than a set of randoms steps, which will, in average, produce nothing.
    Where’s the problem?

    The problem is that you and the aptly named VD mistake the elegant simplicity of the mechanism being demonstrated for

    “…an amazing demonstration of the completely obvious that not only misses the point, but exposes the crudity of the thought processes behind evolutionary theory.”

    Do you see? The “obviousness” complained of is an emergent property of gradual change over time combined with selection of beneficial properties: it is obvious because it is self-evident that the theory is valid.

    You gaping tard.

  34. #34 Oliver
    February 27, 2009

    oops: my post should have addressed itself to Silver Fox

  35. #35 John Kwok
    February 27, 2009

    Am sure that if P. G. Williamson – who was the invertebrate paleontologist working alongside Richard Leaky back in the 1980s – was still alive, then he?d be elated by this news. Without a doubt, a most impressive hominid paleobiological find which merely emphasizes how early the trait for upright posture and walking did occur for the hominid lineage leading to us.

  36. #36 M. Todd
    February 27, 2009

    A footprint preserved in mud for 1.5 million years? Seems unlikely.

  37. #37 bunnycatch3r
    February 27, 2009

    I can’t even imagine 1 million years. To think that we all have family on the otherside of that expanse is frightening.

  38. #38 John Kwok
    February 27, 2009

    PS As some of you may know, P. G. identified a classic example of evolutionary stasis in at least one freshwater gastropod lineage that he had studied from the Kobi Fora Formation.

  39. #39 Knockgoats
    February 27, 2009

    While, from my previous posts, the regulars here know that I am not a big fan of Vox Day,/I> – Silver Fox

    On the contrary, the impression I’ve received is that you are indeed a big fan of that loathsome piece of stinking filth. As this comment of yours confirms.

  40. #40 E.V.
    February 27, 2009

    Am sure that if P. G. Williamson – who was the invertebrate paleontologist working alongside Richard Leaky back in the 1980s – was still alive, then he?d be elated by this news.

    John K.:
    Was he your high school biology instructor as well?

  41. #41 sng
    February 27, 2009

    M. Todd,

    It is unlikely. Which is why there are so few of them and they’re awe inspiring.

  42. #42 Booger
    February 27, 2009

    Only one set of tracks, huh? Hominid tracks, eh? Clearly, this was when the monkey-man musta been carrying God on his back then. Duh.

  43. #43 Ben
    February 27, 2009

    “A footprint preserved in mud for 1.5 million years? Seems unlikely.”

    But talking snakes on the other hand, completely realistic.

  44. #44 Knockgoats
    February 27, 2009

    I shouldn’t have let my irritation at Silver Fox’s stupidity spoil my enjoyment of this find. I wonder what they were thinking about as they ambled along; and how far they were capable of communicating their thoughts to each other? The oldest Acheulean hand-axes are from before this time; and those are sufficiently sophisticated to suggest considerable planning and imitative skills, and quite possibly pedagogy and an esthetic appreciation of what they were making – so my hunch is that they had something well on the way to modern language. Possibly as neuroscience discloses how closely manual and linguistic skills are related, we might be able to do more than hazard a guess.

  45. #45 Felix
    February 27, 2009

    #36 M.Todd, please read #32.

  46. #46 Bodach
    February 27, 2009

    Brownian, your recommendation goes right to my wish list; thanks.
    Science is SO effing cool!

  47. #47 uncle frogy
    February 27, 2009

    Oliver:Do you see? The “obviousness” complained of is an emergent property of gradual change over time combined with selection of beneficial properties: it is obvious because it is self-evident that the theory is valid.

    You gaping tard

    yes! and yes! and yes!
    it seems that they are looking for something more extreme or profound like their own belief in magic and can not see the truth of the obvious, the simple. It took a Darwin to put it in words first before we could see it.

    I too am amazed at the dating procedures and techniques that a date can be arrived at with any degree of accuracy at all.
    The times involved are humbling.

  48. #48 Charles
    February 27, 2009

    “Remember, though, these are 1 million years old, 250 times older than the age of the earth, according to creationists. That’s a lot of wonder and history and evidence to throw away, but they do it anyway.”

    It really just makes me sick to even think about it.

  49. #49 CJO
    February 27, 2009

    The very idea of reading VD for the prose rather than the sneering, ignorant hatred is just family-size stupid.

    Silver Fox, if you want some recommendations of writers who genuinely have “great command of the English language” I’d be happy to give you some, if only so you could see how dumb what you just said is. Of course, I doubt you have the acumen to tell the difference.

    A hint, though: such writers are often actually, you know, published authors, usually not arrogant hack scumbags with inadequacy issues they’re attempting to resolve on the Web writing under cheesy psedonyms.

  50. #50 Dr P
    February 27, 2009

    ah but those are likely Jesus’s prints as he carried the dinosaur through its tough times…

    hehe I couldn’t help myself

    It really is an amazing find. I’m always jealous of my archaeologist cousin who gets to go on digs and see this type of thing first hand.

  51. #51 JM
    February 27, 2009

    How little of the total fossil evidence we must have unearthed, and how much still less must have survived to be discovered! (I’m using ‘fossil’ in its general sense = ‘having been dug up’.) Yet we have discovered much. I’m fascinated and pleased that palaeontologists are even now picking the likely sites of fossil discovery (as with Tiktaalik!) and excavating them.

    I wonder whether one day we’ll be able to do deep remote-sensing surveys (with methods even more sensitive than those now used routinely by archaeologists) of geology of appropriate age to find the best targets?

  52. #52 SteveM
    February 27, 2009

    What VD is trying to say in his usual pompous and obsfucated way is that he thinks all such computer “simulations” are essentially frauds because they are intelligently directed (by the user). VD and SF would like to believe that Darwin’s “natural selection” is actually random selection and so would not produce anything of “value”.

  53. #53 EricT
    February 27, 2009

    One can only wish that he tripped in that mud face first so that we could get a look at more of him. He would have laid there a bit embarrassed but gotten slowly to his hands and knees and carefully walked out of his impression.

    Still I’m glad you posted the photo as I couldn’t find it yesterday.

  54. #54 CJO
    February 27, 2009

    The oldest Acheulean hand-axes are from before this time; and those are sufficiently sophisticated to suggest considerable planning and imitative skills, and quite possibly pedagogy and an esthetic appreciation of what they were making – so my hunch is that they had something well on the way to modern language.

    I wonder. Rather than looking at evidence from technological output, I tend to think about this from the standpoint of encephalization: did Ergaster have precursor left-hemisphere structures to our dedicated linguistic modules, and sufficient cortical “bandwidth” to do the processing needed? I mean, trying to derive evidence for pedagogy and aesthetics from a type artifact that persists in the record for so long is questionable: why were there no pedagogical or aesthetic innovators in all that million years of furious hand-axe production? Bower birds’ nests could be said “to suggest considerable planning and imitative skills” but we recognize them as the product of the evolution of ‘hard-wired’ instinct, right?

    If language does anything for us, beyond its main role –gossip and small-talk for group cohesion, it’s the rapid recombinations of shared concepts and ideas into new concepts and ideas, which leads me to associate proto-language with the Upper Paleolithic transition.

    But I disagree mainly in the spirit of discussion. I like thinking about the origins of language, Nick, so if you have any more thoughts on the matter, I’d love to hear ‘em.

  55. #55 Louise Van Court
    February 27, 2009

    What a wonderful find. No bunions on those prehistoric feet.

  56. #56 Aero
    February 27, 2009

    Why would someone back then be going somewhere other than where they’re standing to take a leak? Did they have restrooms or porta-potties back there? Yes this is one of those posts that delights and stirs us to wonders of the majesties of the universe and the little trail our kind has left behind.

    Maybe that wonderful creature was thinking; “One small step…” or maybe; “Cool new world – HEY, chicks.”

  57. #57 co
    February 27, 2009

    I mean, trying to derive evidence for pedagogy and aesthetics from a type artifact that persists in the record for so long is questionable: why were there no pedagogical or aesthetic innovators in all that million years of furious hand-axe production?

    You’re absolutely right. I predict that there will be some uproar and excitement about some recent results on lithic analyses (so far done only for the Southern Levant, ~ 20kYBP – 12kYBP) coupled with network theory. Goodale from Hamilton College hasn’t openly published this stuff yet, but it’ll be damned good when it comes out. There are hypotheses (pretty well supported) that we can see evidence of innovation and spread of these innovations, and *possibly* can tell whether a given set of tools was produced by an individual (or, perhaps, by a single “school” of individuals).

  58. #58 CircleReader
    February 27, 2009

    Ahh, Booger beat me to it! This just begs to be made into a “Footprints” plaque.

    Not to be disrespectful to this awesome “wonder and history and evidence,” you have posted here, for which I thank you.

    These fossils are awesome as science in their own right, but as one of those theistic evolutionists, my own personal wonder at them includes echoes of the biblical texts in which “the earth brings forth” living creatures and the first human is named after the mud from which he is formed…

  59. #59 John Umana
    February 27, 2009

    These are remarkable and exciting new anthropological finds at Ileret, Kenya. Yet, these 1.5 million year old footprints are the footprints of a pre-human hominid, Homo erectus — not our species Homo sapiens. What is particularly significant is that the 1.5 million year old footprints of this prior species indicate modern human foot anatomy just like our own feet. Homo erectus was evolved about 2 million years ago in Africa. Nariokotome boy (KNM-WT 1500), a ?missing link? stumbled across in 1984 in Lake Turkana, Kenya by a team led by Richard Leakey and Alan Walker is an example of Homo erectus or Homo ergaster 1.5 million years ago. The child?s eye sockets were overshadowed by a brow ridge, a ridge of bone that gave the skull a glowering expression, and there was a low, receding forehead leading to a long and flat crown. The boy had a tall, thin muscular physique, suited for radiating heat from his body in equatorial Africa and chasing game on the open plains and avoiding carnivores. It is not that people adapted to equatorial climates by becoming tall and slender, or that people adapted to cold climates by becoming short and stocky. Rather, the Creator Force tailors peoples and creatures to their environments and conditions. Creation: Towards a Theory of All Things by John Umana (amazon.com). When it came to feet, though, there was no need to ?reinvent the wheel? from the foot anatomy of Homo erectus. This means that the feet you are walking around on today are anatomically the same feet that these folks had 1.5 million years ago. Did we evolve from Homo erectus? No, not directly. But we did evolve from another species that was evolved from erectus.

  60. #60 daveau
    February 27, 2009

    Here is the first article I read on the subject:
    http://www.philly.com/philly/hp/news_update/20090227_Footprints_offer_clue_on_path_to_modern_man.html
    It has a lot of info on how the footprints were discovered and dated. The original article was in Science, if you have a subscription.

    Just beautiful.

  61. #61 Sastra
    February 27, 2009

    The tracks are probably too ancient, but I like to imagine that the hominins were on their way to honor some significant artifact their culture valued. And yet the great and impressive goal they journeyed to reach has disappeared and been forgotten for a million years, and all that’s left for their descendants to wonder at, are their footprints.

    Shades of Ozymandias:

    “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
    Stand in the desert….
    … Nothing beside remains…”

  62. #62 co
    February 27, 2009

    Umana: Crop circles? really?

    Discuss.

  63. #63 Zorpheous
    February 27, 2009

    I just LOVE PZ place. I learn something new with each visit. I come for the education, but I stay for the mocking of the Religious Retards.

    Now, can we use these ancient foot prints to recreate a model of the feet so we can kick the Religious Retards in their brains (aka kick them in their arses)

    Keep your stick on the ice PZ, you da man!

  64. #64 CircleReader
    February 27, 2009

    Beautiful, Sastra (#61)!

    Interesting how your imagination of this event is the inverse of PZ’s “probably nothing dramatic” narrative, focusing on the transience of these creatures’ “important” works, rather than the unexpected endurance of slight, accidental traces.

    Either way, the impulse to tell the Footprints’ Tale is nigh irresistible.

  65. #65 garrick
    February 27, 2009

    “Second trail on the upper footprint surface at FwJj14E, showing two left feet.”

    The couldn’t dance either?

  66. #66 Bad Albert
    February 27, 2009

    perhaps on their way to find something for lunch, or strolling off to urinate

    Or maybe he was going back to The Monolith to find out how to turn that hyena bone into a weapon.

  67. #67 AJ
    February 27, 2009

    So nice to hear PZ write about something beautiful, instead of the usual hate-filled stuff.

    I wish the atheist crowd didn’t put off such a negative image.

  68. #68 co
    February 27, 2009

    So nice to hear PZ write about something beautiful, instead of the usual hate-filled stuff.

    I wish the atheist crowd didn’t put off such a negative image.

    Hate-filled stuff is awful. Preferable, usually, to awe-full, though.

  69. #69 Elwood Herring
    February 27, 2009

    This reminds me of the brilliant short story “Transience” by Arthur C. Clarke.

    I’ve found a copy of it online at this page but it’s buried within a veritable wall of text. Do a page search for “Transience” and you’ll find it.

  70. #70 Elwood Herring
    February 27, 2009

    Slightly better link – go to page 51.

  71. #71 Fitz
    February 27, 2009

    Truly awesome.

    Thankyou to all those who are working to find out stuff we don’t know. And thanks to PZ for pointing me to it.

  72. #72 bastion of sass
    February 27, 2009

    PZ wrote:

    I’m wondering about the possible future fate of the debris of my life that has ended up in landfills, or the other small smudges across the landscape that I’ve left behind me.

    I think about that myself. And I think about how future scientists, archeologists, historians may puzzle over what they may find, even in the fairly near future. I’ve been to digs at several early colonial era sites in the U.S., and even though in the history of time, those sites aren’t all that old, the archeologists and historians don’t find piecing together a picture of life at those sites easy or clear.

    In my own small yard, I’ve made some interesting finds, possibly swept into the yard by the small stream that perhaps ran behind my property at one time (and still sometimes runs when there’s a deluge): a china doll’s head, an arrowhead, marbles, an “honorary county sheriff” badge, pieces of jewelry and china.

    And whenever I puzzle over the purpose of some item passed down to me from my great-grandparents or even grandparents, I fondly think of one of my kid’s favorite childhood books: Motel of the Mysteries by David Macaulay.

    I’m thinking that with our sealed landfills, future generations of archeologists and scientists will have a lot of stuff to sift through and study.

  73. #73 Beorgia Moi
    February 27, 2009

    Some of these comments verge on
    ad hominin reasoning.

  74. #74 JBlilie
    February 27, 2009

    I was just doing some web searching on the Laetoli site foot prints (attributed to Australopithecus afarensis). I was amazed at how many sites there are out there that claim either that the foot prints are fake (we know that the creationist commnity knows a lot about faked foot prints!) or that they somehow support their special creation assertions about human and animal origins. Bizarre. There sure are a lot of benighted people out there that refuse to consider scientific findings.

  75. #75 JBlilie
    February 27, 2009

    Re: @69, Umana:

    “Dr. Umana’s Creation: Towards a Theory of All Things, succeeds in doing what has not been done before — reconciling creationism and intelligent design theory with portions of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.”

    “He demonstrates that the core idea of Darwinism, though an interesting theory in the 1800’s, is bad science today. Something else is going on to explain the emergence of life and the origin of species. These are the big issues of our day in the evolution debate, and this is the book we have all been waiting for.
    What that “something else” is has never been explained by any scientist or philosopher before Creation. This is the first real effort to show how biological evolution operates in the origin of new species and the emergence of life. Dr. Umana, while agreeing that natural selection is a true force of nature as demonstrated by microevolution (e.g., the development of bacteria to resistance to antibiotics), shows that natural selection cannot explain emergence of new species.”

    Nature needs Jebus to help it over the difficult jumps? You won’t find many buyers of this snake oil around here!

  76. #76 Sastra
    February 27, 2009

    Something else is going on to explain the emergence of life and the origin of species. These are the big issues of our day in the evolution debate, and this is the book we have all been waiting for.

    Ah, that explains all those hundreds of evolutionary biologists hanging around the bookstores, breathless with anticipation. Nature must be so steamed they didn’t get excerpt rights.

  77. #77 Anonym
    February 27, 2009

    Surprised not to find any mention on the blog of this article from physorg, since it seems to open wide the door between pre-biotic and biotic evolution.

  78. #78 Valor Phoenix
    February 27, 2009

    Am I the only one that sees a regular interval of what looks like walking stick impressions at the uppper left, middle and right edges of the laser scan sequence?

    I’m guessing about 2-3 inches thick on the muddy end based on relative size. Not a terribly unreasonable proposition considering that walking though mud can be tricky without a staff.

  79. #79 wagonjak
    February 27, 2009

    Apparently some of the scientists have matched the imprint of the foot to some x-rays of John McCain’s left foot and think this may be a match.

    Did McKrusty actually roam the world some 1 2/2 million years ago? Inquiring minds want to know!

  80. #80 Zorpheous
    February 27, 2009

    I would like to invite any of fellow athiest/agnostic to little thread.

    http://www.smalldeadanimals.com/archives/010857.html

    Ya, we religious rightwing loonies in Canada as well.

    Come on and join the fun.

  81. #81 noahpoah
    February 27, 2009

    Goddammit, that’s cool.

  82. #82 dean
    February 27, 2009

    “The lI’m wondering about the possible future fate of the debris of my life that has ended up in landfills, or the other small smudges across the landscape that I’ve left behind me.”

    Slightly different, slightly the same: I grew up on a farm. My parents bought it in the 1930s, and it had been in the hands of others in the family for roughly 80 years before that. The area behind our large horse barn was the “burial site” for farm animals, deer carcasses, pets, etc., for, well, almost all of that time. The running joke was how future folks who might own the land in the future would try to explain their finds.

  83. #83 Gene
    February 27, 2009

    I think that footprint is of Andy Kaufman’s great great great great …. great grandmother.

  84. #84 bobxxxx
    February 27, 2009

    Remember, though, these are 1 million years old, 250 times older than the age of the earth, according to creationists.

    Those footprints are 250 times older than the entire magically created universe.

    In other news Stone Age tools were found in a Colorado backyard, estimated to be 2 times older than the entire universe.

  85. #85 alison
    February 28, 2009

    rendered awesome by their rarity and the magnitude of the time separating us
    Thanks, PZ, that’s beautiful :-)

  86. #86 JM
    February 28, 2009

    A current report of some paleontology of another age – demonstrating, perhaps, the usefulness of good (knowledgeable, careful!) amateurs in science:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2009/feb/27/dinosaurs-fossils

    I hope that some kind of an earned permit is required to do excavations of this kind – we wouldn’t want paleontological remains carelessly destroyed by idiots.

  87. #87 John Phillips, FCD
    February 28, 2009

    @AJ: The hate is your perception and not the reality here, i.e. the attitude that any criticism must be hatred and then label such criticism as militant. Yet it is not the atheist flying planes into buildings or shooting doctors and bombing abortion clinics. What you see here is, if you truly open your eyes and your mind, mainly exasperation and frustration at the evil we see perpetrated by so many believers who claim to be moral. I.e. their continued attempts to force their beliefs on others and their attempts to corrupt science education. If they kept their beliefs a personal matter then most of us would simply ignore them and their delusions, whatever we might actually think of faith without evidence.

  88. #88 simon
    February 28, 2009

    is probably from Homo ergaster.

    a theist or atheist ?

  89. #89 itwasntme
    February 28, 2009

    I don’t see the possible walking-stick marks (get more specific and I’ll look for them), but in the mud print, I notice a sort of pointed toe look that might be indication of toenail growth, possibly curving over the head of the toe.

  90. #90 pk
    February 28, 2009

    If you compare animals which rely on a certain means of survival there will be a similarity among the features enabling them to do so. For example, the cat family has similar looking skulls. Carnivores have similar-looking tracks, as do artiodactyls. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that bipedal hominids should not have tracks similar to our own. The foot would be constructed for upright walking, which probably conferred an advantage over ape-style quadruped locomotion. It’s really time to do away with those old “evolution of man” illustrations showing stoop-gaited early hominids. There’s no survival advantage to walking around half-stumbling. Perhaps bipedalism goes farther back than we know…

  91. #91 'Tis Himself
    February 28, 2009

    Perhaps bipedalism goes farther back than we know…

    It seemed to be popular amongst carnivorous dinosaurs.

  92. #92 pk
    February 28, 2009

    It seemed to be popular amongst carnivorous dinosaurs.

    I was implying within our own ancestral line…

  93. #93 Russell
    February 28, 2009

    I got goosebumps thinking about this.

    “It’s an interesting bridge across time. There they were, a couple of pre-humans out for a stroll, perhaps on their way to find something for lunch, or strolling off to urinate, probably nothing dramatic, and these few footprints were left in drying mud to be found over a million years later, when they would be scanned with a laser, digitized, and analyzed with sophisticated software, and then uploaded to a digital network where everyone in the world can take a look at them. Something so ephemeral can be translated across incomprehensible ages?I don’t know about you, but I’m wondering about the possible future fate of the debris of my life that has ended up in landfills, or the other small smudges across the landscape that I’ve left behind me.”

  94. #94 David Marjanovi?, OM
    March 1, 2009

    While, from my previous posts, the regulars here know that I am not a big fan of Vox Day, I do read him regularly mainly because he has such a great command of the English language. In one of his recent comments, he noted this, and perhaps it is part of the “back of the mind” resistance:

    “Evolutionary biologists are so mathematically and/or computer illiterate that they often don’t understand that historical backtesting is not a dependable form of proof. For example, Richard Dawkins’s Weasel program really has to be seen to be believed; it’s an amazing demonstration of the completely obvious that not only misses the point, but exposes the crudity of the thought processes behind evolutionary theory.”

    The one who misses the point is, as usual, the self-proclaimed Voice of God. The point is that it really is that simple. The theory of evolution by mutation, selection, and drift is simple. It is what Mr Beale calls “crude”. You don’t need to study philosophy for years to understand it; it isn’t that complicated, because it doesn’t need to be.

    Principle of parsimony: Keep your theories as simple as possible. One of the two pillars of the scientific method.

    As comment 47 says.

    Pre-human? They put ergaster in another genus?

    Neither “human” nor “genus” is defined. PZ apparently defines “human” as “Homo sapiens“…

    A footprint preserved in mud for 1.5 million years? Seems unlikely.

    The mud dried, became hard, and was covered by more mud, which also became hard. Easy. Happens all the time.

    I can’t even imagine 1 million years.

    Nobody can. Why bother? :-)

    The boy had a tall, thin muscular physique, suited for radiating heat from his body in equatorial Africa and chasing game on the open plains and avoiding carnivores. It is not that people adapted to equatorial climates by becoming tall and slender, or that people adapted to cold climates by becoming short and stocky.

    Indeed not. Instead, in equatorial climates, the stocky people die from overheating, leaving the lanky ones; and in cold climates, the lanky ones freeze to death, leaving the stocky ones. That’s called natural selection.

    Evolution is something that happens to populations, not individuals. You have taken the metaphor (“organisms become” for “populations become primarily composed of organisms that are”) literally; you shouldn’t have.

    Rather, the Creator Force tailors peoples and creatures to their environments and conditions.

    Explain Stupid Design.

    Perhaps bipedalism goes farther back than we know…

    On the rare occasions when gibbons walk, they do so bipedally. And so do orangutans on thin branches.

  95. #95 Elaina
    March 4, 2009

    I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

    Elaina

    http://www.craigslistpostingtools.info

  96. #96 hery
    January 25, 2010

    As with most terrestrial fossil trackways, they were formed while the sediment was still wet but drying

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