January 28, 2022 | Jerry Bergman

Laetoli Footprints Were Made by Humans

Have Modern Humans Been on Earth for 3.7 Million Years?
How to Negate Physical Evidence by Interpreting it Away


by Jerry Bergman, PhD

The evidence that the famous footprints imprinted in volcanic rock at Laetoli, Tanzania, were made by modern humans now appears fairly certain. At the least, there are major problems with the conclusion that they were made by an alleged ancient ancestor like  Australopithecus, as I explained in my December 10, 2021 article.[1] Here I add more evidence from recent studies that make a good case for the view that the prints were made by modern humans.[2]

A widely reprinted drawing of a family making the Laetoli prints. Notice how the artist made the feet look human but the faces look ape-like.

The prints had been dated at close to 3.7 “million years old” by leading paleochronologists,[3] and yet they looked like regular human footprints. To get around the conclusion that modern man was walking around on Earth 3.7 “million years ago,” evolutionists claimed that the prints were made by an Australopithecus with very modern-appearing human feet that was in the process of evolving into modern man but had a ways to go. In several million years, so the argument goes, his descendants would become fully human. Although Australopithecus would not evolve into modern man for over 3 million years into these creatures’ future, they had already evolved very modern-looking human feet! This contrived explanation is inferior to the straightforward conclusion that modern humans have been modern humans for all the time they have walked the Earth.

When Darwinists are asked what evidence would be required to falsify human evolution, and to admit that the first man was indeed a modern human, they often respond by saying that what would do it is finding modern human bones in the same geological layers and locations as dinosaurs. Another way of stating the same argument is as follows: “Evolution could be falsified by many conceivable lines of evidence, such as: the fossil record showing no change over time.[4] Finding modern human bones dated by evolutionists at over 65 “million years old” would meet “the fossil record showing no change over time” requirement. My perception is that if this evidence was ever found (and I believe it has been), they would still claim the modern human bones were from Australopithecines or another human precursor that was in the process of evolving into modern humans.

Clear Evidence the Footprints Were Human

Many differences between human and great ape feet exist. Footprints “have long fascinated evolutionary biologists because of the dramatic differences between our feet and those of our [claimed] closest living relatives, the great apes.”[5] The differences are not controversial.

Human feet differ from those of other animals, including our closest living relatives, the great apes …. in numerous features related to our unique form of bipedal locomotion. These include a large heel bone, short toes, an adducted and non-opposable hallux, and well-developed longitudinal and transverse arches.[6]

Ape feet, lacking arches, are made for grasping, not for upright walking.

Some of these differences are not detectable from footprints. One that is very detectable from footprints, and constitutes a major evidence for identifying the prints as human, concerns the big toe. We use our big toes to help us push forward as we walk upright. In contrast, chimpanzees use curled lateral toes when knuckle walking.[7]  For this trait the Laetoli footprints provide some evidence that the prints are human due to the impression made by the big toe.

The most distinctive trait, which is often obvious in footprint impressions, is based on the fact that the feet of all arboreal apes possess a thumb-like hallux that extends outward from the foot to produce a hand-like structure designed for climbing trees. Thus, arboreal apes have four functional hands—not two hands and two feet—as do humans. This arboreal ape-foot structure was not present in any of the Laetoli footprints, which is good evidence that the prints were made by modern humans.

The Laetoli researchers concluded that the “most obvious similarity of the Laetoli footprints to human footprints is the relativity marked adduction of the hallux” meaning the big toe movement was toward the mid-line of the body. This characterizes human walking, but is unlike ape movement.[8] The importance of this trait can be seen in the way researches describe the “dramatic differences between our feet and those of our closest living relatives… [which] dichotomize human and great ape feet as being adapted for bipedal walking and arboreal locomotion, respectively.”[9]

An Example of “No Change Over Time”: The Human Fourth Metatarsal Foot Bone

Fourth metatarsal. Notice that the Homo sapiens and Australopithecus afarensis (AL 333-160) are almost identical and the Pan troglodytes (chimpanzee) and G. gorilla are significantly curved.

In 2000, what was claimed to be an Australopithecus afarensis fourth metatarsal foot bone was found (Fossil AL 333-160). It was “functionally like that of modern humans,” the researchers said. The bone was recovered from sieving substratum deposits in Hadar, Ethiopia. Fossil AL 333-160 was a complete, nearly perfectly preserved fourth metatarsal claimed to be from an A. afarensis (Lucy-type ape). The bone was alleged to be approximately 3.2 million Darwin years old. Judging from the illustration on page 715 of the Science article (see illustration), the metatarsal appears to be from a modern human, and yet it was claimed to be from A. afarensis (Fossil AL 333-160). It is almost identical to a  human fourth metatarsal bone. In contrast, the fourth metatarsal bones of Pan troglodytes (chimpanzee) and G. gorilla look significantly different from those in Fossil AL 333-160. Those two are obviously curved as is true of apes that have four hands.

In summary, the evidence is persuasive that the fourth metatarsal foot bone claimed to be from A. afarensis was in fact from a human. When added to the footprint evidence, the obvious conclusion should be that humans existed very early in Earth history. How do evolutionists respond? They aver that the bones were really from Australopithecines in the process of evolving into modern humans, but they still had a ways to go before becoming human.

Explaining a transition from ape quadrupedal locomotion to human bipedal travel is very problematic. Evolutionists make confident assertions in lieu of evidence. The fact is, although “Bipedalism has long been recognized as one of the primary adaptations that shaped the course of human evolution… the evolutionary history of hominin bipedalism itself has been the subject of long-standing debate.”[10] Bipedalism is clearly a critical adaptation required for human evolution, but evolutionary answers to even basic concerns are mostly speculative. Even the “timing and nature of its evolution remain unclear.”[11]


Good evidence exists that both the Laetoli footprints and the fourth metatarsal foot bone belonged to modern humans. This physical evidence is explained away by claiming the footprints and the fourth metatarsal foot bone actually belonged to our ancient ape relatives which were on their long path to evolving into humans. Thus, they had some very modern traits 3.7 million Darwin years ago, but were a long way from becoming fully human. The evolutionary story is based purely on assumption, not evidence. No evidence exists for a part-human and part-ape Australopithecus. A stubborn situation remains for evolutionists that “Evidence for [human] arches in the earliest well-known Australopithecus species, A. afarensis, has long been debated” and is still being debated as of this writing.[12]


[1] Bergman, Jerry, Reexamined Laetoli footprints confound anthropologists: Second set of human footprints at Laetoli reexamined, 10 December 2021, https://crev.info/2021/12/new-laetoli-footprints/

[2] McNutt, E.J., et al., Footprint evidence of early hominin locomotor diversity at Laetoli, Tanzania, Nature 600:468-471, 2021, https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-021-04187-7.

[3] Masao, Fidelis T., et al., New footprints from Laetoli (Tanzania) provide evidence for marked body size variation in early hominins, eLife 5:e19568, 14 December 2016.

[4] Objections to evolution.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Objections_to_evolution; emphasis in original.

[5] Holowka, Nicholas B., and Lieberman, Daniel E., Rethinking the evolution of the human foot: Insights from experimental research, Journal of Experimental Biology 221(Pt. 17):doi: 10.1242/jeb.174425, 6 September 2018, p. 221.

[6] Holowka and Lieberman, 2018, pp. 221, 222.

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

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

[9] Holowka and Lieberman, 2018, pp. 221.

[10] Hatala, Kevin, et al., Laetoli footprints reveal bipedal gait biomechanics different from those of modern humans and chimpanzees, Proceedings of the Royal Society B 283(1836):20160235, 17 August 2016, http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2016.0235.

[11] Hatala, Kevin, et al., 2016.

[12] Ward, Carol, et al., Complete fourth metatarsal from Hadar, Ethiopia, and arches in the foot of Australopithecus afarensis, Science 331(6018):750-753, 2011, p. 750.

Dr. Jerry Bergman has taught biology, genetics, chemistry, biochemistry, anthropology, geology, and microbiology for over 40 years at several colleges and universities including 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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Categories: Early Man

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