July 3, 2019 | Jerry Bergman

More Laetoli Footprints Found

New Discovery of More Laetoli Human Footprints

Print characteristics support the conclusion they were made by modern humans

by Jerry Bergman, PhD

In 1976, paleoanthropologist Mary Leakey reported finding what she judged to be ancient hominin footprints at a site in Laetoli, in northeastern Tanzania.[1] The footprints were in volcanic deposits dated to the Pliocene, an epoch Darwinians dated from 5.333 million to 2.58 million years ago. Evolutionists hypothesized that the footprints belonged to an extinct hominin species famously known as Lucy, i. e., Australopithecus afarensis.

Additional footprints were reported in 2016 by a Tanzanian and Italian research team. These prints were about 150 meters away from the original footprint discovery. This new trackway is in one way more important than the Leakey finding because it is surrounded by hundreds of footprints belonging to what appear to be modern mammals and birds.[2] The hominin footprints on this trackway were made by two bipedal individuals walking on the same surface, at the same time, in the same direction(s) and, judging by the footprint traits, walked at the same moderate speed as those reported by Leakey.

The first set discovered by Leakey were interpreted based on the assumption that a Lucy-like creature made the footprints based on an 80 ft.-long series of two footprint trails. The total of 69 prints (31 large and  38 smaller footprints) of what appear to be two adults and a child preserved in volcanic ash were found over 1,000 miles from the Lucy bones.[3] They were Darwin-dated at 3.7 million years old. In 1980, Tim White evaluated the prints, saying that the

uneroded footprints show a total morphological pattern like that seen in modern humans. Heel strike is pronounced. The great toes appear fully adducted, lying immediately ahead of the ball of the foot. The medial longitudinal arch of the foot is well developed. Spatial relationships of the footprints are strikingly human in pattern … the Laetoli hominid trails at site G do not differ substantially from modern human trails made on a similar substrate.”[4]

Another evidence that the prints are human is that humans move forward by use of their big toes, and “chimpanzees walk bipedally with curled lateral toes.”[5]  Walking upright is critical to prove evolution because humans are the only primate fully committed to walking upright as adults. A two-stage evolutionary process would require the baby crawling on all four limbs, but soon learning to walk upright once sufficient limb length and balance abilities are developed.

As noted, the ash beds containing three parallel foot tracks were 1,000 miles away from Lucy and dated by some evolutionists to be close to a half million years older than Lucy. Nonetheless, paleoanthropologist Donald Johanson insisted, based on his acceptance at the time of the “single species hypothesis,” that these footprints must belong to Lucy, his famous discovery. According to him, the tracks “proved” that she walked upright as humans do today. The “single species hypothesis” has now been largely rejected, negating the main evidence for Lucy as a creature with human hands and feet.

The feet of all arboreal apes show the great toe called a hallux that extends outward from the foot to create a hand structure for climbing trees. Thus, arboreal apes are said the have four hands, not two hands and two feet as do humans. The researchers concluded the “most obvious similarity of the Laetoli footprints to human footprints is the relativity marked adduction of the hallux,” meaning the big toe movement toward the midline of the body.[6] The arboreal ape foot structure was not present in any of the footprints, and is clear evidence that the prints were made by modern humans. Thus the Leakey prints, as far as can be determined from careful study, are close to identical to those of modern humans.

If these are modern footprints, the researchers need to face major problems this creates for the evolutionary story. First, the dating of 3.6 to 3.8 million years old for human prints creates a dilemma for Darwin. It implies either that the Lucy-like footprints are not nearly that old, or that modern humans have been around for as long as 3.8 million years. If that were true, then most of the claimed ape-to-human links, including Australopithecus, could not be our ancestors, nor could any other claimed missing links (see 22 March 2010).

Another problem with assuming that the Leakey footprints were made by Lucy is that the remains of at least 13 hominids were recently found in Laetoli in addition to numerous similar finds made as far back as the 1930s, raising the possibility that the prints are actually hominid.[7] The finds consist of human mandibles and teeth in relatively good condition dated at between 3.59 to 3.77 million Darwin-years old, which puts them in the range of the Laetoli footprints which they claim are 3.7 million Darwin years old. The dating estimates, at the least, indicates that the footprints and hominid fossils are contemporary.

Yet another problem with interpreting the Leakey find as a Lucy type was the discovery of another set of footprints nearby made by feet so large that they would require a size-11, human shoe size. In other words, the shoe size of a six-foot-tall man, in contrast to Lucy, who was estimated to be between 3.5 and 4 feet tall. This set of prints was located only about 500 feet from the main set of tracks and was also claimed by evolutionists to be A. afarensis, the same species as Lucy. In short, both sets appear to be “like modern footprints,” Johansen said. “If one was left in the sand of a California beach today,” you could not distinguish them from modern human footprints.[8]

Hands and Feet Comparisons

Other australopithecine skeletons did have hand bones that were used to determine Lucy’s hand and foot traits, but no hand or feet bones were located at the Leakey footprint site. Ironically, a decade after Lucy’s discovery, anatomist Charles Oxnard argued the australopithecine locomotion concern was irrelevant to any human evolutionary story because, he concluded, “the australopithecines … are now irrevocably removed from a place in the evolution of human bipedalism, possibly from a place in a group any closer to humans than to African apes and certainly from any place in the direct human lineage.” He added “this should make us wonder about the usual presentation of human evolution in introductory textbooks, in encyclopedias and in popular publications.”[9]

Details of The New Footprint Set Found in 2016

The two sets of footprints, the 1976 and 2016 sets, are evidence of the presence of at least five bipedal humans moving as a group through the Laetoli landscape. Both the new and the older footprints have provided scientists with clues in the search to understand human biological history. Fossil bones and teeth provide paleontologists with much information about various aspects of early humans. Conversely, footprints are snapshots of behavior in the past. After

being impressed on the ground, these ephemeral traces of past life can fossilize only under extremely rare geological conditions. Using footprints, scientists can reconstruct locomotion, body size, speed, and variability of extinct creatures. Generally, fossil footprints are very useful paleontological tools. Their features can help identify their makers and also to infer biological information. Nearly all the fossil human tracks discovered so far have been referred to species of the genus Homo.[10]

The authors of the 2016 find add: “Laetoli is the only exception to the record.” In contrast to this claim, as we have shown, according to the evidence, Laetoli is not an exception. All of the prints, including those at Laetoli, were of genus Homo. In 2019, Elgidius Ichumbaki and Marco Cherin say that

[One] of the most sensational results of the 2016 study that identified the second trackway at Laetoli concerns one track maker’s body size. One individual’s footprints are surprisingly larger than those of the other members of the group, suggesting an estimated stature of about 165cm, or about 5 feet 4 inches. This exceptional body size, which falls within the range of modern Homo sapiens maximum values.”[11]

They add that this large size “makes it the largest Australopithecus afarensis individual identified so far.” In view of the observable evidence from both the first set of tracks found in 1976 and the 2016 discovery, the tracks are not “the largest Australopithecus afarensis individual identified so far.” Instead, rather, they were likely made by a modern 5’4’’ tall human, the height of the average woman today!

The Locals’ Judgments about the Prints

The children’s prints in the Laetoli beds are located on top of the adult prints. The children of the local people, the Maasi, have been observed to walk in the footprints of the adults. The footprints of concern were uncovered by removing the top soil which was later replaced to help prevent erosion. Interviews with local Maasai and others in nearby villages were completed to learn what the people who live in and around Laetoli believe about these footprints. The 35,000 residents in these villages have been living in the area for many generations.

The Maasai people connect the Laetoli footprints to the Lakalanga tale, a hero who helped win a battle against a neighboring enemy. Lakalanga was so large that wherever he walked, he left visible tracks on the ground. The large body size of Lakalanga is also reflected in the local community’s human interpretations of the Laetoli footprints. Lakalanga was not a three- foot-tall chimp like Lucy but equal or larger to a modern man.

No time reference was indicated by the story except it occurred deep in the Maasai past. There exist similar stories from other parts of the world where local people associate footprints with heroes. For example, in about 450 B.C., Herodotus reported footprints found along the banks of Tyras River in Moldavia that were associated with heroes visualized as giants. In addition, footprints from the Gallipoli Peninsula in north-eastern Turkey are linked with the great hero-athlete from the Trojan war.[12] The authors conclude,

The discovery in 2016 of the second set of footprints – and particularly the large footprints in that set – offered further confirmation to the Maasai that the hero warrior Lakalanga really existed. Linking footprints with the story of Lakalanga is not unique at Laetoli.


The scores of footprints at Laetoli found so far all appear to be made by modern humans, not Lucy or any other australopithecines. They lend no evidence to the evolutionary view of history, especially of humans. No doubt more and similar finds will be made in the future. They will shed even more light on the meaning and significance of human footprints, who made them and when they were made – questions we can only speculate about at the present time.


[1] Elgidius Ichumbaki and Marco Cherin. 2019. The Maasai legend behind ancient hominin footprints in Tanzania. The Conversation. https://theconversation.com/the-maasai-legend-behind-ancient-hominin-footprints-in-tanzania-119373. June 26.

[2] Elgidius Ichumbaki and Marco Cherin. 2019.

[3]Fred Spoor, Bernard Wood, Frans Zonneveld. 1994. “Implications of Early Hominid Labyrinthine Morphology for Evolution of Human Bipedal Locomotion,” Nature 369 (June 23): 645–648.

[4] White, Tim. 1980. Evolutionary implications of Pliocene hominid footprints. Science. 208(440): 175-176. p. 175.

[5]Stern Jr, Jack and Randall L. Susman. 1983, The locomotor anatomy of Australopithecus afarensis. The American Journal of Physical Anthropology. 60(3): 279-317 , p. 309.

[6] Stern and Susman, 1983, p. 309.

[7] Leakey, Mary et al., 1976. Fossil hominids from the Laetoli beds. Nature. 262. pp. 460, 464.

[8] Johanson, Donald and Maitland Edey. 1981. Lucy: The Beginnings of Humankind. New York: Simon and Schuster; p. 250.

[9]   Oxnard, Charles E. 1984. The Order of Man: A Biomathematical Anatomy of the Primates. New Haven: Yale University Press, p. 332.

[10] Elgidius Ichumbaki and Marco Cherin. 2019.

[11] Elgidius Ichumbaki and Marco Cherin. 2019.

[12] Elgidius Ichumbaki and Marco Cherin. 2019.

Dr. Jerry Bergman has taught biology, genetics, chemistry, biochemistry, anthropology, geology, and microbiology at several colleges and universities including for over 40 years at Bowling Green State University, Medical College of Ohio where he was a research associate in experimental pathology, and The University of Toledo. He is a graduate of the Medical College of Ohio, Wayne State University in Detroit, the University of Toledo, and Bowling Green State University. He has over 1,300 publications in 12 languages and 40 books and monographs. His books and textbooks that include chapters that he authored, are in over 1,500 college libraries in 27 countries. So far over 80,000 copies of the 40 books and monographs that he has authored or co-authored are in print. For more articles by Dr Bergman, see his Author Profile.

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