Hominid footprints at Laetoli: facts and interpretations

Am J Phys Anthropol. 1987 Apr;72(4):485-514. doi: 10.1002/ajpa.1330720409.


The history of discovery and interpretation of primate footprints at the site of Laetoli in northern Tanzania is reviewed. An analysis of the geological context of these tracks is provided. The hominid tracks in Tuff 7 at Site G in the Garusi River Valley demonstrate bipedality at a mid-Pliocene datum. Comparison of these tracks and the Hadar hominid foot fossils by Tuttle has led him to conclude that Australopithecus afarensis did not make the Tanzanian prints and that a more derived form of hominid is therefore indicated at Laetoli. An alternative interpretation has been offered by Stern and Susman who posit a conforming "transitional morphology" in both the Tanzanian prints and the Ethiopian bones. The present examines both hypotheses and shows that neither is likely to be entirely correct. To illustrate this point, a reconstruction of the foot skeleton of a female A. afarensis is undertaken, and the results are compared to the Laetoli tracks. We conclude that A. afarensis represents the best candidate for the maker of the Laetoli hominid trails.

MeSH terms

  • Dermatoglyphics*
  • Foot*
  • Fossils*
  • Haplorhini / anatomy & histology*
  • Humans
  • Paleontology*
  • Tanzania