Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Lucy Walked Upright 3.2 Million Years Ago

Lucy, the 3.2 million-year-old fossilized ancient hominid found in Ethiopia, walked upright much as we do, according to a new study. Scientists have wondered whether she was bipedal or whether she shuffled like a chimp.

Walking upright was a significant developement in evolution because it allowed humans to carry things and use tools more efficiently.

To figure out how Lucy walked, researchers at Loughborough University in the U.K. built a robot-based computer model of her, complete with virtual muscles. Then they figured out the optimal gait for her anatomy. Although her legs were shorter than ours and her torso was longer, her gait was similar to ours.

The way she walked closely matches that of another ancient hominid who left a set of footprints found in Laetoli, Tanzania, in the middle 1970s. Those footprints were solidified in volcanic ash and are thought to belong to A. afarensis, the group to which Lucy belonged.

Another set of footprints recently discovered in volcanic ash in Mexico provided important new scientific information about human migration.

No footprints of an "intelligent human designer" have been located to date.