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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Footprints used to study human evolution

As technology continues to advance, so does our understanding of human evolution. Research by UA assistant anthropology professor David Raichlen and his colleagues provide evidence suggesting that 3.6 million years ago, hominins walked with the same upright gait that humans do today.

This challenge of human evolution was created when a trail of fossil footprints conserved in volcanic ash from 3.6 million years ago was discovered in Tanzania more 30 years ago. In order to determine the significance of the footprints, Raichlen and his team designed experiments specifically for these footprints. Among Raichlen’s team was Adam Foster, an anthropology graduate student at the UA.

Foster explained that this experiment required the team to build a sand track-way resembling the one found in Tanzania. Human subjects were then asked to walk across this track-way with both an erect gait and a crouched gait, similar to one of a chimpanzee. Researchers found that the footprints made by the erect, modern-day gait was the most closely related to the footprint found in Tanzania.

But what does this mean for the UA and the anthropology department?

“”Every faculty output improves the stature of the university. My research will not do more than that. Everyone contributes to the university as a whole,”” Raichlen said. “”Everything happens in small steps. This project will lead to many more questions and research. My lab has contributed to research (on) how we came to be and how evolution occurred.””

This experiment did not only benefit the UA but will also benefit undergraduate students by offering a rewarding experience. Stephanie Reyes, a biology and anthropology senior, said, “”It was very rewarding to get hands-on experience in with this type of project in college.””

Foster agrees: “”Students can now see that there is exiting research being done here at the UA and may be able to take part of as an honors student researching their thesis or for educational benefits.””

UA student Cody Crocker thought these results might have an impact on his academic career.

“”As an undecided major here at the UA, I have yet to decide what interests me academically. The discovery that our human ancestors were also bipedal has me intrigued in anthropology. I now aspire to do similar research to discover more history about our ancestors,”” Crocker said.

The result from this research was published in last Monday’s addition of PLoS ONE, a journal from the Public Library of Science.

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