ALLERGY, RESPIRATORY
Childhood Food Allergies on the Rise
'Safe' Ozone Levels May Not Be for Some
Air Quality Better in Northeast, Midwest
ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE
38% of U.S. Adults Use Alternative Treatments
Quit Smoking the Holistic Way
Massage Therapy Helps Those With Advanced Cancer
ANIMAL CARE
'Comfort Dogs' Come to Emotional Rescue
Rest Easy. When It Comes to Swine Flu, Your Pet Is Safe
Beware of Dog Bites
BONES & JOINTS
Tai Chi May Help Ward Off Knee Pain in Seniors
Breast-feeding Might Shield Women From Rheumatoid Arthritis
Most Women With Osteoporosis Unaware of Raised Fracture Risk
CANCER
Women Smokers Lose 14.5 Years Off Life Span
Tanning Beds Shown To Raise Cancer Risk, Study Says
Healthy Behaviors Slow Functional Decline After Cancer
CAREGIVING
MRSA Infections Spreading to Kids in Community
Health Tip: Benefitting From Adult Day Care
Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome as Deadly as Ever
CIRCULATORY SYSTEM
Laughter Can Boost Heart Health
Night Shift Work Hard on the Heart
Mercury in Fish Linked to High Blood Pressure
COSMETIC
Science May Banish Bad Hair Days
Wrinkle Fillers Need Better Label Warnings: FDA Panel
Health Tip: After Liposuction
DENTAL, ORAL
Most Insured Adults Worry About Health Care Costs: Poll
Amino Acid May Be Key to Strong Teeth
Gum Care Helps Control Type 2 Diabetes and Its Complications
DIABETES
Out-of-Control Blood Sugar May Affect Memory
24 Million Americans Had Diabetes in 2007
Laughter May Lower Heart Attack Risk in Diabetics
DIET, NUTRITION
Coffee Drinkers Might Live Longer
Uncover Why Turmeric Helps You Heal
School Meals Need to Get Healthier
DISABILITIES
Could Your Cell Phone Help Shield You From Alzheimer's?
Review Finds Marijuana May Help MS Patients
ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH
Pesticides Linked to Parkinson's
Hypertension May Hit Black Males Earlier
Air Pollution Exposure May Slow Fetal Growth
EYE CARE, VISION
Magnetic Pulses to Brain Improve Lazy Eye in Adults
Brain Adapts to Age-Related Eye Disease
Guard Kids' Eyes Against Long-Term Sun Damage
FITNESS
Almost Two-Thirds of Americans Meet Exercise Guidelines
As Temperature Plummets, It's Still Safe to Exercise
The 3LS Wellness Program for Reversing Chronic Symptoms and Creating Lasting Health
GASTROINTESTINAL PROBLEMS
New Guidelines Issued for Management of IBS
Intestinal Bacteria Trigger Immune Response
New Yogurt May Ease Stomach Ulcers
GENERAL HEALTH
FDA Bans Unapproved Prescription Cough, Cold and Allergy Meds
Swine Flu Fatality Rate a 'Little Bit' Higher Than That of Seasonal Flu
Hand-Washing Habits Still Need Improvement: Survey Says
HEAD & NECK
Many Children Will Outgrow Headaches
Ski Helmets Encouraged for All
Zen May Thicken Brain, Thwart Pain
HEALTH & TECHNOLOGY
Study Suggests Link Between Cell Phones and Brain Tumors
Combating Myths About Seasonal Allergies
E-Mailing Your Way to Healthier Habits
HEARING
Summer Sounds Can Lead to Hearing Loss
Noise Hurts Men's Hearing More, Study Shows
HEART & CARDIOVASCULAR
Women Who Run May Benefit From Extra Folic Acid
Vitamin B3 May Help Repair Brain After a Stroke
Rheumatoid Arthritis a Threat to the Heart
INFECTIOUS DISEASE
Bacterial Infections May Succumb to Honey
Older Adults May Have Some Immunity to Swine Flu
Chinese 'Devil Dung' Plant Could Be a Swine Flu Fighter
INFERTILITY
Obesity May Affect Fertility in Young Womene
KID'S HEALTH
Fussy Babys Could Be Out Of Your Control
Exercise in Adolescence May Cut Risk of Deadly Brain Tumor
Don't Leave Your Kids In The Car !
MEN'S HEALTH
Low Iron Levels Cut Cancer Risk in Men With PAD
Could Chinese Herb Be a Natural Viagra?
More Vitamin C May Mean Less Chance of Gout
MENTAL HEALTH
Environmental Chemicals May Affect Male Reproduction
Optimism May Boost Immune System
Daily dose of beet juice promotes brain health in older adults
PAIN
Acupuncture, Real or Fake, Eases Back Pain
'Cell Phone Elbow' -- A New Ill for the Wired Age
Alleviating Rheumatoid Arthritis
PHYSICAL THERAPY
PREGNANCY
Breast-Feeding Benefits Moms and Babies
Expectant Mom's Exercise Keeps Newborn's Birth Weight Down
Woman in America Are Delaying Motherhood, Study Says
SENIORS
More Whole Grains May Mean Less Fat
High-Impact Activity May Be Good for Old Bones
Older People at Greater Risk of Swine Flu Death
SEXUAL HEALTH
SLEEP DISORDERS
Daylight Savings: Not a Bright Time for All
Pay Attention to Signs That Say You're Too Fatigued to Drive
6 to 8 Hours of Shut-Eye Is Optimal for Health
WOMEN'S HEALTH
Occaisonal Dieting May Cut Breast Cancer, Study Says
Exercise As Well As Acupuncture, May Ease Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome
Health Tip: Be More Comfortable During Childbirth
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Human Ancestors Put Best Foot Forward 1.5M Years Ago

THURSDAY, Feb. 26 (HealthDay News) -- Anthropologists have uncovered a trail of ancient footprints in northern Kenya believed to represent the oldest evidence to date of an essentially modern, human-like foot.

The footprints date back at least 1.5 million years, according to a report in the Feb. 27 issue of Science.

"Finding footprints in the early stage of human evolution is very rare. They're very fragile and they don't often preserve," explained study co-author John W.K. Harris, a professor of anthropology at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J. "This is only the second finding in 30 years."

"This is not the first time that a footprint has been found that has shouted to us through time, but it certainly is one of the most important," added Jeffrey T. Laitman, distinguished professor and director of anatomy and functional morphology and of gross anatomy at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City. Laitman was not involved with the study.

The features of the footprints indicate that they belonged to the hominid Homo ergaster, or early Homo erectus. These are the oldest footprints that can be linked to mankind's genus, Homo, according to an accompanying perspective article in the journal. This creature had the longer legs and shorter arms of modern man, rather than the longer arms and shorter legs of the more ape-like ancestors.

According to fossil records, the ability to walk on two feet -- called bipedalism -- seems to have emerged about 6 million years ago. But it's unclear when the more human form of bipedalism evolved.

Thirty years ago, in 1978, British archaeologist/anthropologist Mary Leakey discovered 3.75-million-year-old footprints at the Laetoli archaeological site in Tanzania.

But these prints seem to have belonged to a less "modern" bipedal creature, still with the big toe separated from the rest of the toes and with the more ape-like long arms with shorter legs.

And any skeletons of mankind's more modern-proportioned ancestors tend to have lacked foot bones.

"There's not much information regarding feet ... only a few foot bones have survived through time," Laitman said.

The new discovery, made at Ileret in Kenya, is notable for a number of reasons, Harris said.

"The size of the foot is conspicuous," he explained. "The foot is much larger than the bony remains we have of the feet of earlier hominids, and it's longer and more elongated. You or I could put our feet into the prints of what we've found on the landscape from 1.5 million years ago."

Harris realized the importance of the prints when a local tribesman started to put his foot into one of the prints. "He could almost put his modern foot into one of the prints," Harris recalled. "It's like the coloratura soprano hitting the high notes. It sends shivers up your spine."

The shape and other features of the foot also more closely resemble those of modern man.

"There's a well-defined heel, nice and round and large. It also shows the arch from where we transfer the weight from back to front and, then, the most conspicuous feature, is the big toe which is in line with other toes," Harris said. "That gives us the platform to step off. These are all features that define the modern foot, and they were there 1.5 million years ago."

The distance between the footprints also shows a much greater stride than had been evident before, indicating a change in landscape and in the hominids' ability to traverse this landscape.

"At this time, 1.5 to 1.7 million years ago, there was a change in the climate to more dire conditions, so patches of food were further apart," Harris said. "For a hominid to be successful on that landscape, he had to have a more efficient way of moving across the landscape... The creature was increasing its home range. We think that it was at this stage of human evolution that Homo erectus left the continent of Africa."

"You're uncovering a little window in time, a snapshot in time that nobody's looked at in 1.5 million years," he added. "Nobody's uncovered these prints since they were made by the hominid himself."

-Amanda Gardner

More information

Visit the Institute for Human Origins at Arizona State University for more on "becoming human."



SOURCES: John W.K. Harris, Ph.D., professor, anthropology, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, New Brunswick; Jeffrey T. Laitman, Ph.D. distinguished professor and director, anatomy and functional morphology, and director, gross anatomy, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York City; Feb. 27, 2009, Science

Last Updated: Feb. 26, 2009

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Human Ancestors Put Best Foot Forward 1.5M Years Ago
M. Bennett

1.5 million-year old fossil footprint