Scientific Methods

Sunday, March 12, 2006


"The Laetoli footprints were discovered in 1976, not far from the village of Laetoli in a remote part of Tanzania. We tend to think that major scientific discoveries are made in laboratories by dull, plodding scientists with narrowly-focused minds and eyes, but the Laetoli discovery happened far differently. Two paleoanthropologists, in a group led by the famous anthropologist Mary Leakey, were horsing around, throwing elephant dung at each other while walking a familiar path back from the dig one day. After Andrew Hill dodged one well-aimed faecal projectile, he found himself face-down on the ground and staring at footprints fossilised in a layer of hardened volcanic mud. No one had noticed them before. Later excavation revealed an astonishing find that came to be known as the Laetoli footprints.

What makes these prints an almost unbelievable discovery are that not only are they clearly made by fully bipedal1 creatures, but are also almost indistinguishable from modern human footprints, despite being formed millions of years earlier than the earliest known fossilised human footprints.

The individual footprints are sufficiently well-formed and well-preserved to provide information on the soft tissues (skin and muscle) of their creators, yet even more interesting is the information determined about the skeletons of these upright-walking creatures. The toe pattern is much the same as the modern human foot - the toes are relatively short and the big toe is in line with the other toes. "

Dr Richard Knight
Co-ordinator: National Information Society Learnerships - Ecological Informatics
Department of Biodiversity and Conservation Biology
University of the Western Cape
Private Bag X17
Bellville 7535
Phone 27 + 21 + 959 3940
Fax 27 + 21 + 959 1237


  • This is a fascinating research - modern footprints that old? Who made them? Was it a family? What I find really fascinating is the second footsteps that are made within the first (mother or father's?) was it child playing with the parents footsteps?

    By Anonymous Rich Knight, at Tuesday, March 14, 2006 4:04:00 PM  

  • Hi Dr Knight I would like to book the topic on The Laetoli footprints. I am sure that I will find some interesting facts surrounding the way it was made and to whom it belonged. The question that interest me is why so few footprints that was preserved? Maybe it was made so long ago artificially as a memory of some-one very important in a society.

    By Anonymous Elizabeth van der Merwe, at Tuesday, March 14, 2006 4:14:00 PM  

  • i think the footprint was preserved by the people of Laetoli village as their god or lord.

    By Blogger lethabo, at Thursday, March 16, 2006 3:51:00 PM  

  • Actually you will find there are quite a few footprints of exceptional quality.

    By Anonymous Rich, at Saturday, March 18, 2006 6:27:00 PM  

  • This is interesting.

    By Blogger linette, at Wednesday, May 31, 2006 4:03:00 PM  

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