Ancient footprints reveal sex lives of early humans

These footprints — in a space no larger than a few parking stalls — may hold clues as to the sex lives of early human ancestors. Photo: Raffaello Pellizzon/ elife

A University of Dar es Salaam researcher has made a discovery which gives a glimpse into the sex lives of early human ancestors.

In 2015, Fidelis Masao and a team of colleagues discovered some footprints while working in Laetoli, an area already well known for it’s ancient footprints.

Masao and his team were not looking for more footprints, they were looking for a spot to build a museum to showcase what had already been found.

But the footprints they stumbled upon likely belong to members of the hominin species Australopithecus afarensis (the same as the famous fossil of Lucy from Ethiopia) and some researchers say these footprints show one adult male walking with two to three adult females as well as several juveniles.

This would indicate that one male shared several females as mates, similar to the social structure of modern-day gorillas.

“We are far from the traditional representation of the 1970s, with a couple of human-like Australopithecus, romantically walking arm in arm,” says paleoanthropologist Giorgio Manzi, who studied the footprints.

Going by the footprints, researchers say the largest of these Australopithecus’ weighted 48 kilograms and was 5.4 feet tall — the tallest ever recorded.

They have named him Chewie, after Chewbacca from Star Wars.

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About the Author

Daniel Hayduk

Daniel is Dar Post’s news director. When not in the newsroom, he spends his days helping NGOs across the continent find their creative side.