ALLERGY, RESPIRATORY
Molecule in Skin May Link Eczema and Asthma
Traffic, Dust Linked to Asthma in Kids
Asthmatics Who Quit Smoking May Reverse Lung Damage
ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE
Placebo Acupuncture Tied to Higher IVF Pregnancies
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Awareness of Alternative Therapies May Be Lacking
ANIMAL CARE
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'Comfort Dogs' Come to Emotional Rescue
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BONES & JOINTS
Autumn Sees More Women With Bunion Problems
Hip Replacement Boosts Mobility at Any Age
Vitamin K Doesn't Slow Bone Loss
CANCER
Get to Know the Pap Test
Yoga May Bring Calm to Breast Cancer Treatment
Acupuncture May Help Relieve Polycystic Ovary Syndrome
CAREGIVING
With Age Comes Greater Risk of Hypothermia
Child's Food Allergies Take Toll on Family Plans
Diabetes Epidemic Now Poses Challenges for Nursing Homes
CIRCULATORY SYSTEM
Vitamins Do Older Women Little Good
Migraines in Pregnancy Boost Vascular Risks
Common Antioxidant Might Slow Parkinson's
COSMETIC
Health Tip: After Liposuction
Study Evaluates Laser Therapies for Hair Removal
What to Do If You Have Unsightly Veins
DENTAL, ORAL
Rheumatoid Arthritis May Harm Gums
Most Insured Adults Worry About Health Care Costs: Poll
Holistic Dentistry-My View
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'Standard' Glucose Test May Be Wrong One for Obese Children
Arthritis Hits More Than Half of Diabetics
Older Diabetics With Depression Face Higher Death Rate
DIET, NUTRITION
Mediterranean Diet May Help Prevent Depression
Natural Oils Help Lower Body Fat For Some
Fruit Even Healthier Than Thought: Study Shows
DISABILITIES
Could Your Cell Phone Help Shield You From Alzheimer's?
Review Finds Marijuana May Help MS Patients
ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH
Household Insecticides May Be Linked to Autoimmune Diseases
Agent Orange Exposure Tied to Prostate Cancer Return
Freckles, Moles May Indicate Risk for Eye Cancer
EYE CARE, VISION
Eye Care Checkups Tied to Insurance Status
When Corks Fly, Watch the Eyes
Kids' Eye Injuries From Golf Clubs Rare But Severe
FITNESS
Will the Wii Keep You Fit?
Eating Well And Keeping Active As You Grow Old Will Help You Stay Sharp
Marathoners Go the Distance on Heart Health
GASTROINTESTINAL PROBLEMS
Olive Oil May Protect Against Bowel Disease
HRT Use Raises Risk of Stomach Trouble
Bowel Prep Harder on Women Than Men
GENERAL HEALTH
Simple Holistic Approach to Fight the Common Cold
Good Sleepers More Likely to Eat Right
Regular Yoga May Improve Eating Habits
HEAD & NECK
Ski Helmets Encouraged for All
Many Children Will Outgrow Headaches
Zen May Thicken Brain, Thwart Pain
HEALTH & TECHNOLOGY
Combating Myths About Seasonal Allergies
Subway Defibrillators Save Lives
'Cell Phone Elbow' -- A New Ill for the Wired Age
HEARING
Summer Sounds Can Lead to Hearing Loss
Noise Hurts Men's Hearing More, Study Shows
HEART & CARDIOVASCULAR
Implanted Defibrillators Boost Long-Term Survival
Toothbrushing May Stave Off Heart Woes
Coffee Is Generally Heart-Friendly
INFECTIOUS DISEASE
Grapefruit Compound Inhibits Hepatitis C Virus
More Medicinal Uses for Pomegranate
Chinese 'Devil Dung' Plant Could Be a Swine Flu Fighter
INFERTILITY
Obesity May Affect Fertility in Young Womene
KID'S HEALTH
Dangerous Toys Still on Store Shelves, Report Finds
6 Million U.S. Kids Lack Enough Vitamin D
Decline of Underweight Children in U.S. Continue to Fall
MEN'S HEALTH
Physical Activity May Prolong Survival After Colon Cancer
Varicose Veins May Mask Larger Problem
Exercise May Prevent Prostate Cancer: Study Shows
MENTAL HEALTH
Bullying Seems to Affect Kids Years Later
Memory Loss Help from Brain Supplement Prevagen
Heal Your Life® Tips for Living Well
PAIN
Alleviating Rheumatoid Arthritis
'Cell Phone Elbow' -- A New Ill for the Wired Age
Acupuncture, Real or Fake, Eases Back Pain
PHYSICAL THERAPY
PREGNANCY
Sleeping Could Help Women Lose The Baby Fat
Breast-Feeding Benefits Moms and Babies
Alternative Treatments May Boost IVF Success
SENIORS
Memory Loss Help from Brain Supplement Prevagen
High-Impact Activity May Be Good for Old Bones
Save Your Aging Brain, Try Surfing The Web
SEXUAL HEALTH
SLEEP DISORDERS
Exercising Throat Muscles May Relieve Sleep Apnea
Better Sleep, Grades Seem to Go Up
6 to 8 Hours of Shut-Eye Is Optimal for Health
WOMEN'S HEALTH
Heart Defects in Newborns Linked to Antidepressants
Being Active an Hour a Day Puts Brakes on Weight Gain
Active Young Women Need Calcium, Vitamin D
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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