Ancient Human Ancestor Was One Tall Dude, Footprints Say

And it hints that he may have had a gorilla-like harem
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Dec 14, 2016 7:18 PM CST
Ancient Human Ancestor Was One Tall Dude, Footprints Say
A three-dimensional model of the early human ancestor, Australopithecus afarensis, known as Lucy. Newly discovered footprints hint at a member of her species that would have towered over her.   (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan, File)

He stood a majestic 5-foot-5, weighed around 100 pounds, and maybe had a harem. That's what scientists figure from the footprints he left behind some 3.7 million year ago, the AP reports. He's evidently the tallest known member of the prehuman species best known for the fossil skeleton nicknamed "Lucy," reaching a stature no other member of our family tree matched for another 1.5 million years, the researchers say. The 13 footprints are impressions left in volcanic ash that later hardened into rock, excavated last year in northern Tanzania. Their comparatively large size, averaging a bit over 10 inches long, suggest they were made by a male member of the species known as Australopithecus afarensis.

They figured that he loomed at least 8 inches above the individuals who made other tracks discovered decades ago in the same area and stood maybe 3 inches taller than a large A. afarensis specimen previously found in Ethiopia. "Lucy", also from Ethiopia, was much shorter at about 3,5 feet. Nobody knows the ages or sexes of any of the track-makers, although the size of the latest footprints suggest they were made by a male. It's quite possible that the new discovery means A. afarensis males were a lot bigger than females, with more of a difference than what is seen in modern humans. The large male-female disparity suggests A. afarensis may have had a gorilla-like social arrangement of one dominant male with a group of females and their offspring. (More Australopithecus afarensis stories.)

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