Footprints and human evolution: Homeostasis in foot function?

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Bennett, Matthew R. ; Reynolds, Sally C. ; Morse, S.A. ; Budka, Marcin (2016)

Human, and hominin tracks, occur infrequently within the geological record as rare acts of sedimentary preservation. They have the potential, however, to reveal important information about the locomotion of our ancestors, especially when the tracks pertain to different hominin species. The number of known track sites is small and in making inter-species comparisons, one has to work with small track populations that are often from different depositional settings, thereby complicating our interpretations of them. Here we review several key track sites of palaeoanthropological significance across one of the most important evolutionary transitions (Australopithecus to Homo) which involved the development of anatomy and physiology better-suited to endurance running and walking. The sites include the oldest known hominin track site at Laetoli (3.66 Ma; Tanzania) and those at Ileret (1.5 Ma; Kenya). Tracks from both sites are compared with modern tracks made by habitually unshod individuals using a whole-foot analysis. We conclude that, contrary to some authors, foot function has remained relatively unchanged, perhaps experiencing evolutionary homeostasis, for the last 3.66 Ma. These data suggest that the evolutionary development of modern biomechanical locomotion pre-dates the earliest human tracks and also the transition from the genus Australopithecus to Homo.
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