Footprints through time

| 34 Comments

A recent paper (Bennett et al. 2009) announced the discovery of 1.5 million year old fossilized footprints from Ileret, Kenya, almost certainly belonging to Homo erectus (see also this commentary article by Ann Gibbons). Homo erectus was already known from fossils such as the Turkana Boy to be very similar to modern humans below the neck, and completely adapted to bipedal locomotion. So it was no suprise when the footprint analysis showed that the owners of the Ileret footprints had a fully modern foot shape and were pushing off their big toes and shifting their weight exactly as modern humans do.

Answers in Genesis, of course, was delighted to report on this, claiming that it confirmed their belief that Homo erectus was a modern human (never mind the more primitive features of pelvis, shoulder and skull found in Homo erectus). So did the Institute for Creation Research. But AIG and ICR carefully avoided mentioning information from the paper that did not fit with their agenda.

There is another famous set of fossilized hominid footprints, the 3.7 million year old Laetoli footprints from Ethiopia, thought by scientists to belong to Lucy’s species, Australopithecus afarensis, or something closely related to it. Creationists in general, and Answers in Genesis in particular, have always claimed that these are same as small modern human footprints (e.g. here, or here). The new paper however contains some evidence against that claim.

Naturally, Bennett and his colleagues compared the Ileret and Laetoli footprints, and concluded that:

Bennett et al. Wrote:

… these [Ileret] prints are also morphologically distinct from the 3.75-million-year-old footprints at Laetoli, Tanzania

A comparison of the instep width relative to the width in the metatarsal head region shows that the upper prints at FwJj14E [Ileret] fall within the modern human range and are distinct from the relatively wider insteps characterizing the Laetoli prints (Fig. 4C).

When compared to the Laetoli prints, the Ileret prints have a more contracted proximal mid-foot region, including a deeper instep (Fig. 4D), suggesting the presence of a medial longitudinal arch. The location of the narrowest point of the instep also lies farther forward (more distal) in the Laetoli prints than in both the modern and Ileret prints, possibly reflecting differences in foot proportions or a lack of definition of the instep.

In other words, contrary to the previous claims of creationists, the scientists found a number of significant differences between the Laetoli footprints and H. erectus (or sapiens) footprints.

And although the Ileret H. erectus individuals walked identically to modern humans, Bennett et al. did report one small anatomical difference between them and us:

The angle of hallux abduction, relative to the long axis of the foot, is typically 14° compared to, and statistically distinct from (table S4), 8° for the modern reference prints and 27° for the Laetoli prints (Fig. 4A).

(The hallux is the big toe, and abduction is the action of pulling the toe away from the line of the foot. Not to be confused with the opposite action, which is called adduction.)

The online supplementary material for the paper also shows that the creationist spin on the Laetoli footprints is way, way oversimplified. There is a wide range of opinion about the Laetoli prints, only a part of which is consistent with the creationist interpretation:

Bennett et al. Wrote:

The interpretation of the Laetoli footprints has been and continues to be a matter of debate over whether they represent an essentially modern bipedal gait (S5-S9), a primitive gait (e.g., bent-hip, bent-knee) or unique form of gait (S10-S12), or whether the evidence to date is ambiguous (S13). Debate also continues over the interpretation of anatomy from the prints, with some researchers arguing that they point to a primitive foot structure bearing a slightly abducted hallux, relatively long, possibly curled lateral toes, and lacking both a medial longitudinal arch and evidence of a medial weight transfer (S10,S11,S14). Others instead argue that the Laetoli prints show evidence of a relatively modern human-like foot anatomy with evidence of a medial longitudinal arch (S5-S8), and these researchers point to the considerable variation in footprint structure, including variations in the degree of hallucal abduction and longitudinal arch height in the prints made by habitually shod and unshod modern humans (S6). Our study supports the hypotheses that the Laetoli prints were made by a foot whose hallux was much more adducted than in apes, but slightly and significantly more abducted than that of modern humans (Fig. 4A), with little positive evidence of medial weight transfer prior to push-off, or a longitudinal arch comparable to that seen in modern humans (Fig. S16). There is little doubt that compared to the modern great apes (S11, S15) the Laetoli prints and the hard tissue anatomy of contemporary hominins show evidence of a foot adapted for bipedalism including a more rigid tarsus but debate continues over whether the Laetoli footprints provide evidence of a modern human-like longitudinal arch (S6,S11).

But, of course, Answers in Genesis readers won’t be hearing about any of that…

34 Comments

But, of course, Answers in Genesis readers won’t be hearing about any of that…

Because, taken one at a time, AiG can try to cast doubt on any individual fact and claim that it disproves the entire theory of evolution. I just got through commenting on what a creepy vibe Ken Ham gives off and am imagining how he would slither his way around these questions:

Ok, Ken, even if all those prints might be human, what do you make of the fact that they’re 1.5 million years old? Fig. 1 in the paper goes into detail about the stratigraphy – oh, and I don’t see any evidence of a catastrophic flood. And what about the > 2 million year gap between the Laetoli prints and the Ileret prints? If I recall correctly, AiG is a YEC organization. How do 3.75 million years go by in human history? Skulls of the same geologic age as the prints are distinct in size from modern human skulls.

Either these are not the same as modern humans and show evolution or “modern humans” have been around for 4 million years. You have to pick one, Ken. I’m sorry, but you can’t phone this one in to Genesis. Your Lifeline has been used up and we need your final answer. Neither the right answer nor the wrong answer is going to give any credibility to Genesis.

I was hoping they’d admit that this print was a fake taken from their Creation Museum of Natural History’s special exhibition devoted to the Flintstones.

To give you an idea of what I’m dealing with locally, here’s a letter to the editor from my local newspaper today.

State-run religion

Oh boy, this one takes the cake — dating a footprint to 1.53 million years ago. How did they determine that? Did they find his Pterodactyl Airlines boarding pass dated March 1, 1.52 million B.C., on the ground next to the footprint, or did they carbon date the toe jam?

Anyone with the time to run some numbers in their head could figure out that in 1.5 million years quadrillions of people had to have been born and died. So, if evolution is true and man had been around for millions of years either the Earth would have been maxed out long ago or there would have to have been many catastrophic events that kept world population in check. Obviously the first is not true and if the second scenario were true you couldn’t plant a garden without digging up people.

Written history goes back a few thousand years and the only consistent story passed along about a catastrophic event is that of a worldwide flood which occurred about 4,400 years ago. Most of the people who believe evolution don’t believe in the worldwide biblical flood of Noah. Yet even secular evidence proves population growth only allows for less than 10,000 years of man’s existence.

The secular media and colleges continue to promote evolution only because it is their best case against special creation, and to a world refusing to answer to a creator, they’ll take “billions of years ago … “ over “In the beginning God created … “ no matter how preposterous the religion of evolution becomes.

Evolution is state-run religion, supported by your tax dollars.

Tim Lamb

Entiat [WA]

One of the amusing problems with the AIG chronology is that it doesn’t leave much room for the stone age. A period that lasted for the vast majority of our history, millions of years.

And yes, just about anywhere you dig can turn up stone tools. I found one while digging in my garden once.

but there is no evidence that they were any closer to apes than we are.

Both modern humans and Homo erectus are apes.

I don’t see how AiG can even use these footprints as evidence that H. erectus was a modern human as they don’t accept the primary reason for thinking that the footprints are H. erectus i.e. the age of the tracts.

Are you SURE that that wasn’t an editorial by Anne Coulter read on Fox News the other night? Sure sounds like her style.

KP said:

To give you an idea of what I’m dealing with locally, here’s a letter to the editor from my local newspaper today.

State-run religion

Oh boy, this one takes the cake — dating a footprint to 1.53 million years ago. How did they determine that? Did they find his Pterodactyl Airlines boarding pass dated March 1, 1.52 million B.C., on the ground next to the footprint, or did they carbon date the toe jam?

Anyone with the time to run some numbers in their head could figure out that in 1.5 million years quadrillions of people had to have been born and died. So, if evolution is true and man had been around for millions of years either the Earth would have been maxed out long ago or there would have to have been many catastrophic events that kept world population in check. Obviously the first is not true and if the second scenario were true you couldn’t plant a garden without digging up people.

Written history goes back a few thousand years and the only consistent story passed along about a catastrophic event is that of a worldwide flood which occurred about 4,400 years ago. Most of the people who believe evolution don’t believe in the worldwide biblical flood of Noah. Yet even secular evidence proves population growth only allows for less than 10,000 years of man’s existence.

The secular media and colleges continue to promote evolution only because it is their best case against special creation, and to a world refusing to answer to a creator, they’ll take “billions of years ago … “ over “In the beginning God created … “ no matter how preposterous the religion of evolution becomes.

Evolution is state-run religion, supported by your tax dollars.

Tim Lamb

Entiat [WA]

Has it been pointed out before that ID “science” is kind of like the cheese shop sketch?

“Have you, in fact, got any evidence here at all?”

“No sir, not a scrap, I was deliberately wasting your time.”

mplavcan said:

Are you SURE that that wasn’t an editorial by Anne Coulter read on Fox News the other night? Sure sounds like her style.

Don’t all creationists regurgitate the same old tired arguments? There are several standard creationist canards in that one letter alone.

1. Carbon dating is suspect (nevermind you wouldn’t use carbon dating on anything over 50K years old).

2. Argument from incredulity.

3. Human population growth suggests a young earth.

4. The Bible is scientific.

5. Evolution is a religion.

KP Wrote:

To give you an idea of what I’m dealing with locally, here’s a letter to the editor from my local newspaper today.

If the paper is still running comments, the obvious answer to that poor deluded soul is that there are creationist organizations (OEC and ID variety) that totally disagree with that chronology. Would he complain about them being part of the “secular media” because they dare to challenge his particular fairy tale?

And what about the “replacement scam” (aka “academic freedom” or “teach the strengths and weaknesses”) that would teach only evolution (plus misrepresentation) and none of his fairy tale? Wouldn’t that also be a “state-run religion, supported by your tax dollars”?

KP Wrote:

Don’t all creationists regurgitate the same old tired arguments? There are several standard creationist canards in that one letter alone.

1. Carbon dating is suspect (nevermind you wouldn’t use carbon dating on anything over 50K years old).

2. Argument from incredulity.

3. Human population growth suggests a young earth.

4. The Bible is scientific.

5. Evolution is a religion.

No. OECs omit 1 and 3, and IDers omit 1, 3 and 4.

fnxtr said:

Has it been pointed out before that ID “science” is kind of like the cheese shop sketch?

“Have you, in fact, got any evidence here at all?”

“No sir, not a scrap, I was deliberately wasting your time.”

Yes, ad nauseum, in fact.

Frank J said:

KP Wrote:

Don’t all creationists regurgitate the same old tired arguments? There are several standard creationist canards in that one letter alone.

1. Carbon dating is suspect (nevermind you wouldn’t use carbon dating on anything over 50K years old).

2. Argument from incredulity.

3. Human population growth suggests a young earth.

4. The Bible is scientific.

5. Evolution is a religion.

No. OECs omit 1 and 3, and IDers omit 1, 3 and 4.

Actually, some Intelligent Design proponents don’t always omit 3 and 4. For example, the last time Salvador Cordova was here, he implied that the Bible’s account of the events after the Flood was more logical an explanation for the modern day diversity of beetle species than saying that the 350,000 + species got this way due to 220 million years of evolution.

Frank, the only thing that leaves in common for them is:

2. Argument from incredulity.

And you would have us believe that they would stoop that low? Inconceivable (if that word means what I think it means.)

KP said: How do 3.75 million years go by in human history? Skulls of the same geologic age as the prints are distinct in size from modern human skulls.

Well obviously God is “fooling” us making us think the age of those fossils is 3.75 million years old when in reality they are only 3.75 thousand years old. And the skulls we call human skulls of different size were those of childrens or dwarfs. The answer is just so obvious… nevermind the scientific data doesn’t support that. That is God fooling you.

It is truly amazing how delusional AiG and YEC’s in general can be. I somehow wonder if they would like doctors running clinical pharmaceutical trials to take the same attitude towards data cherry picking as they obviously do in thier writings. “Oh well we don’t want them to know that this drug causes stroke in 40% of cases so we’ll just leave that out it doesn’t matter as no data that goes against what we want it to say should be included in the study so we’ll leave it out…no biggie.” I somehow don’t think they would like that very much if the FDA, medical ethics, or scientific ethics allowed that but its exactly what they do. Goes against the Bible? Out. Can support the Bible if you dilute and distort the data? In. I wonder if one of thier scientific editors is Hwang Woo-Suk.

“Ah, what about… math?”

“Oh, yes sir, we have the math.”

“Lovely, I’ll have some of that,then…”

“…It’s a bit fuzzy.”

“Oh, I like it fuzzy.”

“Actually, it’s very fuzzy, sir.”

“I don’t care.… hand it over with all speed.”

“Ohh…”

“What?”

“Chu-Carroll’s eaten it.”

Unfortunately this skit won’t end as elegantly and satifyingly as the Cheese Shop did.

Scientist: Do you, in fact, have any evidence at all?

IDiot: Yes, sir.

Scientist: Really?

IDiot: No, not really, sir.

Scientist: You haven’t.

IDiot: No sir, not a scrap. I was deliberately wasting your time.

Scientist: I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to shoot you.

IDiot: Righto.

[BLAM]

From Tim Lamb’s insightful letter to the editor…

Most of the people who believe evolution don’t believe in the worldwide biblical flood of Noah. Yet even secular evidence proves population growth only allows for less than 10,000 years of man’s existence.

It’s a shame we can’t magically transport good ‘ol Tim from his comfortable suburban lifestyle to the plains of Africa a thousand millennial ago for just a few days.

There, with Tim surrounded by predators, threatened by the environment, and under constant pressure to find enough to eat in a McDonald’s-less world, I’d love to hear his thoughts on how easy it’s going to be live long enough to raise the 4 surviving children it takes to sustain that magical population growth rate he holds so authoritatively dear.

Stanton Wrote:

Actually, some Intelligent Design proponents don’t always omit 3 and 4. For example, the last time Salvador Cordova was here…

Technically, yes, but I would consider Cordova a “YEC first” who just prefers the comfort of the big tent, rather than a “pure” IDer who either admits mainstream chronology or plays “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

Sarah Wrote:

Well obviously God is “fooling” us making us think the age of those fossils is 3.75 million years old when in reality they are only 3.75 thousand years old. … It is truly amazing how delusional AiG and YEC’s in general can be.

That description fits “Omphalos” creationists better than “true” YECs - those who actually think (or want their audience to think) that the evidence really does support a young earth. IOW, that God is not fooling us. It may be, however, that most of AIG’s followers, the “creationists on the street” if you will, many who can’t even spell “evidence”, might find themselves to be Omphalos creationists, if they took the time to listen to something other than the feel-good sound bites.

In fact it was suggested here that the DI’s token “YEC” Paul Nelson might be an “Omphalos” creationist. I asked him while he was briefly posting here but got no reply.

In any case, I think the “don’t ask, don’t tell” types at the DI are the most dishonest of all “kinds” of anti-evolution activist.

You don’t have to go back through time at all. Last year where I was working in northern Mozambique 40 farmers mostly older people and women were taken at night over a period of several months and there wasn’t a fast food store withen 200 miles. Hunts would sometimes be arranged with bows and arrows but for the most part it was an acceptable risk on their part. Needless to say there was no running water either. People, that is to say women and young girls, spent practicaly all their time gathering firewood collecting water preparing food and hand tilling Casava plots. Life expectancy? Less than 50 years and infant mortality is not suitable for mainstream “news”. No TV, newspapers, internet or electricity either. Tim is living in fantasy land if he has any idea that his thoughts have any connection with the reality of a primative existance now or millions of years ago.

k.e.. said:

You don’t have to go back through time at all. Last year where I was working in northern Mozambique 40 farmers mostly older people and women were taken at night over a period of several months and there wasn’t a fast food store withen 200 miles. Hunts would sometimes be arranged with bows and arrows but for the most part it was an acceptable risk on their part. Needless to say there was no running water either. People, that is to say women and young girls, spent practicaly all their time gathering firewood collecting water preparing food and hand tilling Casava plots. Life expectancy? Less than 50 years and infant mortality is not suitable for mainstream “news”. No TV, newspapers, internet or electricity either. Tim is living in fantasy land if he has any idea that his thoughts have any connection with the reality of a primative existance now or millions of years ago.

Whether or not these paper-thin rationalizations hold up under scrutiny is entirely beside the point to the people making them. As long as it supports what they already “know” is true-that the Bible is a literal history of the world-its good enough for them if its superficially plausible.

Frank J said:

That description fits “Omphalos” creationists better than “true” YECs - those who actually think (or want their audience to think) that the evidence really does support a young earth. IOW, that God is not fooling us. It may be, however, that most of AIG’s followers, the “creationists on the street” if you will, many who can’t even spell “evidence”, might find themselves to be Omphalos creationists, if they took the time to listen to something other than the feel-good sound bites.

I really doubt there is a distinction between “true YEC’s and “Omphalus” YEC’s. Ok so yes on paper there is a distinction. But regardless calling scientists delusional, moronic, incompetent becuase they think a fossil is millions instead of thousands of years old because of some mystical flood that happened 3000 years ago caused by God (which totally explains geological strata or not at all whichever)…Really doesn’t garner much distinction in my mind. And I agree most creationists on the street would have no better explanation than God put it there to fool us. Just ask them about dinosaur fossils. . I had one tell me that they were rock formations god put there to test our faith.

raven said: One of the amusing problems with the AIG chronology is that it doesn’t leave much room for the stone age.

Or Oklo.

Sarah Wrote:

I really doubt there is a distinction between “true YEC’s and “Omphalus” YEC’s. Ok so yes on paper there is a distinction.

The difference is not in their belief, but how they “sell” it to others. A “pure” Omphalos would reluctantly concede that the evidence doesn’t support YEC, but a true YEC would mine data and quotes to support YEC, then insist that “all” the evidence supports it.

Thus, among evolution-deniers there’s a scale of apparent honesty with Omphalos at top, YEC and OEC in the middle, and ID at the bottom. It’s ironic that, I agree with Michael Behe’s admission of old-life and common descent and disagree with AIG on all of their “what happened when”, but I respect AIG more – relatively speaking – for not selling out to the big tent.

I had one tell me that they were rock formations god put there to test our faith.

Then their god is a sadistic, evil monster. Make the earth look 4.6 billion years old, plant billions of fossils everywhere, and send people to hell forever for not believing he exists. One might fear such a being but why bother to worship it?

This doesn’t make sense even on a theological level. According to the NT, salvation is by faith, good works, or faith and good works depending on which book of the inerrant, fully consistent bible one reads. Not a single word about evolution.

Besides which, some say it isn’t god wandering around planting all those fossils. Which BTW, is sort of a boring job for a deity. Don’t they have TV and the internet in heaven? The other story is it is actually the devil planting those fossils. I guess they don’t have cable in hell either. LOL

Anyone with the time to run some numbers in their head could figure out that in 1.5 million years quadrillions of people had to have been born and died.

I’m not sure where those numbers in the writer’s head are running to, but that would mean the prehistoric Earth supported an average human population of about 20 billion.

Why don’t you mention the dinosaur footprints they found, if any?

Coverup!

Frank J said:

If the paper is still running comments,

I tried to leave a comment today but my comment was too long and for whatever reason, the website wouldn’t let me edit and resubmit (no rules are given). Feel free to blast away, but you have to “register” which means giving an e-mail and making a PW.

http://wenatcheeworld.com/article/2[…]109874/-1/OP 4th letter down the page.

Stevaroni said:

It’s a shame we can’t magically transport good ‘ol Tim from his comfortable suburban lifestyle to the plains of Africa a thousand millennial ago for just a few days.

Actually Entiat is far from suburban – even “rural” is crediting it with being a metropolis, relatively speaking. I mentioned this in a different thread – it is comparable to anything I saw in rural Oklahoma, consciousness-wise. But your point is no less effective.

Anton Mates:

I’m not sure where those numbers in the writer’s head are running to, but that would mean the prehistoric Earth supported an average human population of about 20 billion.

Yes, there are all sorts of numbers one could point to, including ones that expose glaring inconsistencies in the Bible. Part of my too-long letter elaborated on this, but alas… In poor Tim’s defense, I think he was saying that the lack of this many corpses shows that it didn’t happen and the Bible is true.

I posted a link, feel free to smack down (or not) as necessary.

Ohh, I do wish I had more time to frequent here - you have the most delightful conversations.

That said, I also like the posts. It is remarkable what you can learn from a few sets of prints.

Most of the people who believe evolution

I can’t even begin to imagine how anyone can take an accepted science and then claim that. And it’s a boring claim at that. You can’t “believe” in science in the same way that you can’t believe in a hammer.

(Sure, you can have some uncertainty, say of how many strikes it takes to drive a nail, but it will get the job done. And you can make precise statistics on how the uncertainty behaves to boot.)

Casava plots

[Double take] Isn’t Cassava roots a native South American food?


[Checks wiki] “The cassava, cassada[1], yuca, manioc, mogo[2] or mandioca (Manihot esculenta) is a woody shrub of the Euphorbiaceae (spurge family) native to South America that is extensively cultivated as an annual crop in tropical and subtropical regions for its edible starchy tuberous root, a major source of carbohydrates. Cassava is the third largest source of carbohydrates for human food in the world, with Africa its largest center of production.” [Ah, I see!]

@ Stanton

Have you read the 1st line of the article on ES&R (Evo & Sex Repro) you recommended yet? Yes or no. Por favor.

Carbon dating is suspect

So is radiometric dating, which is based on nothing more than assumptions !!!!!

I’m being facetious here by the way !!!

Still, their conclusions on neanderthals is even more ridiculous. The latest one that I’ve heard (from John McKay)is that Methuselah was most likely a neanderthal.

Oh, boy, the human population argument, one of the religious antievolution movement’s old standbys. Even AiG didn’t repudiate it in their “arguments creationists should not use” file.

Wesley R. Elsberry said:

Oh, boy, the human population argument, one of the religious antievolution movement’s old standbys. Even AiG didn’t repudiate it in their “arguments creationists should not use” file.

Yep, that’s one of the classic old ICR/Henry Morris-style arguments alright. They haven’t formally repudiated it, but I suspect even the creationists must be dimly aware of how monumentally stupid it is, because you don’t really see it used much nowadays. Maybe that’s why AIG didn’t bother addressing it.

Wesley R. Elsberry said:

Oh, boy, the human population argument, one of the religious antievolution movement’s old standbys. Even AiG didn’t repudiate it in their “arguments creationists should not use” file.

If Answers (not) In Genesis were to repudiate all of the stupid (non)arguments creationists use even though it makes them look like morons, creationists wouldn’t have anything to argue with.

I normally bounce all over the internet because I have the tendancy to read a lot (which isn’t always a good thing because the majority of sites just copy from each other) but I want to say that yours contains some genuine substance! Thanks for stopping the trend of just being another copycat site! ;-)

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This page contains a single entry by Jim Foley published on March 10, 2009 5:16 PM.

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