A new study revealed that the mysterious footprints, originally thought to have been left by ancient bears, were in fact made millions of year ago by humans.

The fossilized impressions were found at a Tanzanian site in 1976 and show a large toe, large heel, which helped to classify them as belonging a unidentified bipedal humanoid.

It suggests that more than one such species was walking on two legs 3.7 million years ago, as separate footprints found at a nearby site in Laetoli have previously been identified as the earliest definitive evidence of bipedalism in hominins.

They are believed to belong to Researchers Australopithecus afarensis — the hominin species of the famous partial skeleton ‘Lucy’, the longest-lived and best known example of one of our early human ancestors. 

Although it is not clear what kind of human made the 1976 prints, the impressions show that the person who took them was either a curious cross-stepping walker or could have been navigating dangerous terrain.

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Mysterious footprints (shown in picture a and b) that were first thought to have been made by ancient bears were actually left by early humans millions of years ago, a new study has found. It compared the impressions to another early hominin footprint found nearby (c), as well as bears (d) and chimpanzees (e)

A new study revealed that mysterious footprints, shown in photo a (and b), which had been thought to have originated from ancient bears actually belonged to early human beings many millions of year ago. The impressions were compared to another footprint made by early hominins nearby (c), bears (d), and chimpanzees(e).

Evidence of a big toe and large heel in the fossilised impressions (pictured), discovered at a site in Tanzania in 1976, helped identify them as belonging to an unidentified bipedal hominin

The fossilised impressions, which were found at a Tanzanian site in 1976 and photographed (pictured), show a large toe with a high heel. This helped to identify the fossils as belonging to an unknown bipedal hominin.


Mary Leakey, a paleontologist, and her team found footprints in Laetoli (Tanzania) in 1978. These are the first concrete evidence of upright-walking in the human lineage.

These bipedal tracks were discovered close to an additional set of footprints, which were partly excavated in 1976. They date back to around 3.7million years ago.

Initial thought was that these were made by an ancient bear. But, researchers now know they belonged to an early human species.

University of Ohio researchers concluded that the Laetoli footprints were created by different species by examining the foot proportions.

The earliest-known example, found in 1978, belonged to Australopithecus afarensis — the hominin species of the famous partial skeleton ‘Lucy’, the longest-lived and best known example of one of our early human ancestors. 

However, it’s not known what early human type was responsible for the discovery of 1976’s prints.

It is possible that the impressions show that it had an unusual cross-stepping gait, or perhaps was navigating dangerous terrain.

According to researchers, the footprints had been placed so that each foot was above the body’s middleline in order for the creature to reach the ground with the other. 

‘Although humans don’t typically cross-step, this motion can occur when one is trying to re-establish their balance,’ said the study’s lead author Ellison McNutt, an assistant professor at Ohio University.

‘[The]The hominin may have left footprints on an uneven area.

The first evidence of hominin bipedalism was found in 1978 by five distinct footprints at Laetoli. These were linked to Australopithecus Afarensis.

‘Lucy’, who belonged to that hominin species, was discovered in the Afar region of Ethiopia in 1974 and is thought to have been a young adult when she died 3.18 million years ago. 

Researchers have previously claimed that she died after falling out of a tree, offering unusual evidence for tree dwelling in the extinct species.

However, another footprint was found in the area at Site A around the same period. This led to debate.

Many believed they were created by a bear that was walking on his hind legs. Other believe that Lucy, a different species of hominin, may have made them.

McNutt, along with her associates, excavated these unique footprints again in 2019 and compared them to impressions from bears or chimpanzees. 

McNutt stated that despite the growing evidence of locomotors and species diversity in hominin fossil records over the last 30 years, McNutt felt these prints merited another look. 

The footprints were measured, photographed and 3D-scanned and revealed to have a large impression for the heel and big toe — both of which fit with a hominin species.

The footprint at Site A (pictured left) is shown alongside one at Site G (right), which was found to be the earliest definitive evidence of bipedalism in hominins after being discovered in 1978

Site A’s footprint (pictured right) can be seen alongside Site G’s (right). Site G was discovered to have the first definitive evidence for bipedalism among hominins in 1978.

The footprints were measured, photographed and 3D-scanned and revealed to have a large impression for the heel and big toe — both of which fit with a hominin species. The image above shows topographical maps of two of the footprints

The footprints were measured, photographed and 3D-scanned and revealed to have a large impression for the heel and big toe — both of which fit with a hominin species. Two footprints are shown in the image.

Researchers also carried out video analysis of wild American black bear behaviour (pictured left) and found that the animal hardly ever walks on its hind legs. Its footprint is pictured right

The video analysis (pictured below) of the wild American black bear’s behaviour revealed that it rarely uses its hind legs. The footprint of the bear is shown right

Video analysis was also done on wild American black bear behavior and revealed that it rarely walks on its hind legs.

Bears only walked two feet in less than one percent of all observations. It is unlikely that the bear made footprints at Laetoli.  

Jeremy DeSilva is a senior author and associate professor at Dartmouth College in anthropology. 

'Lucy' (pictured in an artist's impression) was discovered in the Afar region of Ethiopia in 1974 and is thought to have been a young adult when she died 3.18 million years ago

Pictured in an artist’s impression, Lucy (pictured above) was discovered by a team of researchers in Ethiopia’s Afar region in 1974. It is believed that Lucy was a young adult when her death 3.18 million years earlier.

“They cannot walk with a gait that is similar to the Site A footprints’ because their hip muscles and knee shapes don’t allow for that type of movement and balance. 

Researchers found that bear heels taper and their feet and toes are fan-like. However, early humans’ feet were squared off with a prominent big tip.  

A team of researchers analyzed footprints taken from semi-wild Chimpanzees in Uganda at Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary and two captive juveniles at Stony Brook University. The findings revealed that the heels of chimpanzees are narrower than their forefoot. It is also a characteristic shared by bears. 

The heels of the Laetoli footprints are wider than those on Site A.

Site A footprints contained impressions of both a big, large toe and a smaller second digit. Although the size differences between these digits were similar to human and chimpanzees’, they did not differ from black bears.

Researchers said that these details prove the footprints are likely to have been made by hominins walking on two feet.

However, when comparing Laetoli footprints of Site A to the inferred foot proportions and morphology as well as the likely gait, it is clear that Site A footprints stand out from Australopithecus Afarensis footprints found at Sites S and G.

Our genus was predated by other species on the human family tree including various representatives of the genus Australopithecus, of which Lucy belonged to

Other species of the human family tree predated our genus, including representatives from the genus Australopithecus (of which Lucy was a member),

“This research has provided us with conclusive evidence that the Site A footprints show there was a different species of hominin walking on the landscape in different ways and on different feet,” DeSilva said. She focuses her study on the evolution and origins of walking. 

We’ve known this evidence since at least the 1970s. We just needed to rediscover these amazing footprints, and do a deeper analysis in order to reach this point.

Researchers concluded that the findings were part of an increasing body of evidence suggesting a lesser-known diversity of hominins during this period.

Nature published the study. 


Human evolution is traceable back many millions of years. According to experts, the family tree is as follows:

55,000,000 years ago – First primitive primates evolve

15 million years ago Hominidae are great apes that evolved from gibbon’s ancestors.

7 Million years ago – First gorillas evolve. Later, human and chimp lines diverge

A recreation of a Neanderthal man is pictured 

Pictured is an illustration of the Neanderthal Man. 

5.55 million years ago Ardipithecus was an early protohuman and shares some traits with chimps as well as gorillas.

4. Million years ago Australopithecines – Ape like the early human race, Australopithecines emerged. Although their brains are smaller than that of chimpanzees they have other features more human-like. 

The age of 3.9 to 2.9 Million Years AgoAustraloipithecus africanus was born in Africa.  

It was 2.7 Million Years Ago – Paranthropus, lived in woods and had massive jaws for chewing  

2.65 million years ago – The hand axes are the first technological advancement 

2.33 million years ago – Homo habilis first thought to have appeared in Africa

1.85million years ago– The First Modern Hand Emerges 

1.18 million years ago – Homo ergaster begins to appear in fossil record 

800,000. – The first humans created fires and hearths. Rapid growth in brain size

400 000 years of agricultureO – Neanderthals first begin to appear and spread across Europe and Asia

300,000. to 200,000 years ago – Homo sapiens – modern humans – appear in Africa

From 50,000 to 40.000 years ago – Modern humans reach Europe