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Assessing the locomotor behaviour of early humans using biomechanical modelling

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Keaghan Yaxley.

How did our ancestors walk? Despite 100+ years of fossil evidence, we still have not solved this conundrum. The ability for humans to walk on two legs is a rare locomotory phenomenon, not seen in many other species, particularly in our closest relatives (i.e., chimpanzees). This phenomenon is considered the most significant adaptation to have occurred in our lineage, yet understanding the evolution of bipedality is not so straight forward. Fossil limb bones are rare and, even when found, tell just part of the story, since the soft tissue animates those bones which is lost to us in the fossil record. Fossil footprints tell a more complete story and are more common in the geological record than perhaps once thought. They have been found all over the world and offer unique insights into the locomotion, social behaviour and demographics of past life.

Despite 85 years of research since Morton’s seminal work on the foot, the functional anatomy of this unique structure remains elusive. Perhaps the most fundamental problem is that modern analogue studies investigating locomotory behaviour from footprints all involve flat surfaces, pressure treadmills, and/or instrumented walkways. It is, however, more likely that our ancestors walked and ran barefoot on unstable, uneven and rugged terrain (e.g., such as those found on the African savannah – the location of many important hominin fossil discoveries). But is it possible to reconstruct locomotion from footprints using more targeted experiments? And what is the future of reconstructing locomotion from fossils? This talk will discuss experimental simulations of locomotion of fossils: the past, the present and the future.

This talk is part of the Biological Anthropology Seminar Series series.

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