Image taken from The Getty Conservation Institute
They are the infamous Laetoli Footprints, excavated by Mary Leaky and Paul Abell in 1978. Located in Tanzania, some 43km from Olduvai Gorge, the footprint trail survives for 27m and is believed to represent 3 individuals. One is said to have walked in the footprints of another, possibly to or from a watering hole, a theory supported by a number of animal tracks preserved in the same way.
3.6 million years ago these early humans took these steps, but who were they?
This is a factor that is often contested, but, it is as a rule accepted that they are the footprints of Australopithecus afarensis. It is known that they were bipedal and the tracks indicate that they did not require their arms to balance them, in terms of floor support. With one set of prints being smaller than the other, it is thought that sexual dimorphism provides the answer, so one is male (larger) and the other female (smaller). It is thought that they walked across the wet ash leaving prints much like we do in sand or snow. However, before they were washed away they either set as the ash cooled, or another eruption occurred and the footprints were preserved. Recent studies suggest that they set as there is little evidence for volcanic activity, but this is still being explored and not yet widely accepted.
Like us they walked heel first and use the toes to balance and push themselves forward for the next step to be possible. The gaps between the prints are short, suggesting that they had shorter legs than we do, meaning they are early bipeds, yet to develop the means to walk long distances and greater speeds.
This perfectly captured moment has inspired many tales and art works, designed to determine why they were there, how they may have looked etc but by far my favourite is this one...
Image taken from JMSAZ at 23hq
It captures such a private and beautiful moment, allowing us all to remember the importance of maintaining the 'people' when studying our pasts.
This celebration of a moment is always poignant at this time of year, but, more so following the tragic loss of life at Sandy Hook Elementary School. I, like many, would like to extend my condolences to all those grieving families and friends. I am not in any way religious, however the sentiments of these words can extend beyond their biblical references.
Image taken from Emergence International