Hominin research takes another big step

Professor Matthew Bennett has returned to East Africa to further his research into early hominin footprints.

In February this year, Professor Bennett’s cover story in Science concluded that footprints recently discovered near Ileret in Northern Kenya were left by one of our evolutionary ancestors, Homo erectus.

The footprints, from 1.51 to1.53 million years ago, reveal a modern foot anatomy and function with evidence that whoever left them walked much like we do today.

In July, Professor Bennett joined an international team from Rutgers and George Washington Universities in collaboration with the National Museum of Kenya.

The team excavated another 28 square metres of footprint surface dated to 1.4 million years ago to the south of Koobi Fora in Area 103 some 45 kilometres south of the main footprint site featured in the original Science paper.

“This surface was rich in animal prints left on the margins of a former lake and contains several new hominin prints adding significantly to the research programme first reported in February,” said Professor Bennett.

“There is the intriguing possibility that a different hominin species made the new prints which needs further investigation.”

Professor Bennett scanned the footprints using an optical laser scanner which captures the morphology of the prints to within a fraction of a millimetre. The scanner is mounted on a custom built frame that was designed and built at BU by its School of Design, Engineering and Computing.

The morphology data will allow Professor Bennett statistically to compare the prints with those recorded to the north over the last few years.

Recently, Professor Bennett submitted a research bid to the National Environment Research Council (NERC) in collaboration with Professor Robin Crompton of Liverpool University for over £800k to continue this research and uncover further information about the evolution of human gait in our ancestors.