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Ancient Giant: Footprint of Our Tallest Ancestor Unearthed, Fuels Debate On Their Sex Life

Dec 19, 2016 04:24 AM EST

A series of footprints left behind by one of our pre-human ancestors have been found in Tanzania. The footprints were left in volcanic ash that later hardened into rock.

As per The Guardian, Marco Cherin, a palaeontologist at the University of Perugia in Italy, helped to excavate the tracks after the first prints were discovered by a team in Tanzania.

"When we reached the footprint layer and started to clean it with a soft brush and saw the footprints for the first time, it was really one of the most exciting times of my life," he told The Guardian.

According to Science Alert, a total of 13 footprints were unearthed and they are estimated to date back about 3.7 million years ago. The footprints suggested that our ancestors were tall and that we could have grown much taller than previously thought.

One of the prints measure 26 centimeters which suggested that the owner of the prints stood roughly 165 centimeters (5.5 feet) tall, and weighed 45 kilograms (100 pounds). CBC News noted that the owner of the footprint, which was temporarily named S1 is evidently the tallest known member of the pre-human species best known for the fossil skeleton nicknamed "Lucy."

Researchers named the new creature S1, for the first discovery made at the "S" site.

"The footprints of one of the new individuals are astonishingly larger than anyone else's in the group, suggesting that he was a large male member of the species. In fact, the 165cm stature indicated by his footprints makes him the largest Australopithecus specimen identified to date," Cherin said.

Phys.org reported that they found the footprints in Laetoli, the same location where they found in 1978, footprints left by Australopithecus afarensis. The newly discovered prints are only about 160 yards (150 meters) away and scientists believe that they also belong the same species.

Other footprints allegedly belonged to two to three adult females and two to three juveniles, National Geographic reported.

Because of this, many are debating that our ancestors lived a polygamous lifestyle in a a gorilla-like social arrangement where there is one dominant male and several females. Further implying that the male had more than one mate at a time. Meanwhile, Dr. William Jungers, a research associate at the Association Vahatra in Madagascar disagrees to this theory and said it is difficult to distinguish between adult females and large juveniles by footprints alone.

The report, written by Giorgio Manzi of Sapienza University in Rome, Marco Cherin of the University of Perugia in Italy, and others was released Wednesday by the journal eLife.

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