Saturday, February 28, 2009

The toes have it

The recent paper by Bennet et al on early hominin footprints has been covered by several people now (PZ does his usual good job here - except "lumpy rocks"?! Typical biologist!), and I don't have much to add.

It's a great find, documenting probable Homo ergaster footprints which show clear bipedal locomotion. No a great surprise there.

But the find resonates because it is a link to our past, and leaving footprints is something everyone has done at some time or other, and that makes it more personal.

However, there is one thing no-one appears to have picked up. Check out the image of one of the footprints. Although there's a gap between the big toe and the second toe, and in this specimen, the second and third toe overlap (probably a result on the walking action leaving the print looking like that. But it is clear that the second toe is smaller than the big toe.

This "Egyptian" toe configuration is clearly the one true configuration, and the "Greek" configuration (with the second toe larger than the big toe) is clearly a degenerate, deleterious mutation. :-)

Bennet MR, Harris JWK, Richmond BG, Braun DR, Mbua E, Kiura P, Olago D, Kibunjia M, Omuombo C, Behrensmeyer AK, Huddart D, Gonzalez S (2009) Early Hominin Foot Morphology Based on 1.5-Million-Year-Old Footprints from Ileret, Kenya. Science 323(5918):1197-1201.

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