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The oldest unequivocal evidence of upright walking in the human lineage are footprints discovered at Laetoli, Tanzania in 1978, by paleontologist Mary Leakey and her team. The bipedal trackways date to 3.7 million years ago. Another set of mysterious footprints was partially excavated at nearby Site A in 1976 but dismissed as possibly being made by a bear. A recent re-excavation of the Site A footprints at Laetoli and a detailed comparative analysis reveal that the footprints were made by an early human -- a bipedal hominin, according to a new study reported in Nature.

"Given the increasing evidence for locomotor and species diversity in the hominin fossil record over the past 30 years, these unusual prints deserved another look," says lead author Ellison McNutt, an assistant professor of instruction at the Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine at Ohio University. She started the work as a graduate student in Ecology, Evolution, Environment, and Society at Dartmouth College, where she focused on the biomechanics of walking in early humans and utilized comparative anatomy, including that of bears, to understand how the heel bone contacts the ground (a foot position called "plantigrady").

McNutt was fascinated by the bipedal (upright walking) footprints at Laetoli Site A. Laetoli is famous for its impressive trackway of hominin footprints at Sites G and S, which are generally accepted as Australopithecus afarensis -- the species of the famous partial skeleton "Lucy." But because the footprints at Site A were so different, some researchers thought they were made by a young bear walking upright on its hind legs.

To determine the maker of the Site A footprints, in June 2019, an international research team led by co-author Charles Musiba, an associate professor of anthropology at University of Colorado Denver, went to Laetoli, where they re-excavated and fully cleaned the five, consecutive footprints. They identified evidence that the fossil footprints were made by a hominin -- including a large impression for the heel and the big toe. The footprints were measured, photographed and 3D-scanned.

The researchers compared the Laetoli Site A tracks to the footprints of black bears (Ursus americanus), chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes), and humans (Homo sapiens).

They teamed up with co-authors Ben and Phoebe Kilham, who run the Kilham Bear Center, a rescue and rehabilitation center for black bears in Lyme, New Hampshire. They identified four semi-wild juvenile black bears at the Center, with feet similar in size to that of the Site A footprints. Each bear was lured with maple syrup or apple sauce, to stand up and walk on their two hind legs across a trackway filled with mud to capture their footprints.

Over 50 hours of video on wild black bears was also obtained. The bears walked on two feet less than 1% of the total observation time making it unlikely that a bear made the footprints at Laetoli, especially given that no footprints were found of this individual walking on four legs.

As bears walk, they take very wide steps, wobbling back and forth," says senior author Jeremy DeSilva, an associate professor of anthropology at Dartmouth. "They are unable to walk with a gait similar to that of the Site A footprints, as their hip musculature and knee shape does not permit that kind of motion and balance." Bear heels taper and their toes and feet are fan-like, while early human feet are squared off and have a prominent big toe, according to the researchers. Curiously, though, the Site A footprints record a hominin crossing one leg over the other as it walked -- a gait called "cross-stepping."

"Although humans don't typically cross-step, this motion can occur when one is trying to reestablish their balance," says McNutt. "The Site A footprints may have been the result of a hominin walking across an area that was an unlevel surface."

Based on footprints collected from semi-wild chimpanzees at Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary in Uganda and two captive juveniles at Stony Brook University, the team found that chimpanzees have relatively narrow heels compared to their forefoot, a trait shared in common with bears. But the Laetoli footprints, including those at Site A, have wide heels relative to their forefoot.

The Site A footprints also contained the impressions of a large hallux (big toe) and smaller second digit. The size difference between the two digits was similar to humans and chimpanzees, but not black bears. These details further demonstrate that the footprints were likely made by a hominin moving on two legs. But in comparing the Laetoli footprints at Site A and the inferred foot proportions, morphology and likely gait, the results reveal that the Site A footprints are distinct from those of Australopithecus afarensis at Sites G and S.

"Through this research, we now have conclusive evidence from the Site A footprints that there were different hominin species walking bipedally on this landscape but in different ways on different feet," says DeSilva, who focuses on the origins and evolution of human walking. "We've had this evidence since the 1970s. It just took the rediscovery of these wonderful footprints and a more detailed analysis to get us here." - Dartmouth College/ScienceDaily

Some of the South Sudanese graduates who completed studies at the National University of Science and Technology and are stranded in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. Photo: Ezra Tshisa Sibanda/VOA

 

Fourteen South Sudanese nationals, who graduated Friday at the National University of Science and Technology in Zimbabwe’s second largest city, Bulawayo, say they are stranded following their government’s failure to provide them air tickets to return home. Their representative, Makuei Maker Chuny, said they have no food and accommodation due to lack of funds.

He told VOA Zimbabwe Service that they have tried in vain to get help from the Sudanese Embassy in Harare with indications that they won’t get help anytime soon.

“We have been here for six years and government was supposed to provide us two-way tickets, coming and going. Already we have only used one ticket, that is, coming from South Sudan to Zimbabwe … This is a very desperate situation. The school now is going to be closed, there would be no water supply on campus, no electricity. How can you survive? Moreover, we used to have a warden here but now there is no warden. We will be left in the building alone and it’s not good for our health.

“We are asking the government of South Sudan to provide us with air tickets as soon as possible. This should be done before the end of this week. We want to go home. If they don’t do that, we are going to occupy the embassy (South Sudan) as we have been doing because we are compelled by the situation. At the embassy it’s also not convenient for us. This should be a good ending. It should not be a bad ending. We have been struggling, we have been suffering here. They have not been consistent in sending money and sometimes we were evicted … We are urging our government to help us.”

Chuny said it was unimaginable that his nation is failing to pay air tickets for few students.

“We are very few. We are 14 only. How can the whole nation fail to transport for 14 people? We thought this was not going to take even a week. I have written to many offices for two months asking them to provide tickets to my student colleagues but nothing has been done.

Our government hasn’t told us when they are going to provide us with tickets. I have been trying to communicate but nothing has come out clearly. So, I’m using this happening (graduation ceremony) in the presence of South Sudanese students in Zimbabwe to urge the government of South Sudan to provide our (air) tickets as soon as possible.”
He said they are ready to help their nation with skills they have acquired in Zimbabwe.

“We don’t want to be still here next week when we are already done with school. We have a lot of things. We have a lot of things that we can provide the country. The country does not have water supplies and here I’m with the skills which I’m able to provide. I was working with Bulawayo City Council and the (water) stations where I was are already operational. So, it is wise for the government of South Sudan to give us air tickets so we can go home quickly and then we settle and work on how we can deliver these services based on the skills that we have acquired in Zimbabwe.”

Chuny said the South Sudanese president should intervene as education officials are not helping them.

“… We are asking our president Salva Kiir (Mayardit) who is the one who provided us with these scholarships and he still has the powers to take us back home. It’s not good for someone who has graduated to remain in the same place.”

HE claimed that the country’s representatives in Zimbabwe have not been able to pay the air tickets for the students, who are desperate to go home.

“We have spoken to him (ambassador) but he dosen’t have the powers. He has been trying to go around asking people to assist but no one has responded as of now. I have also sent a delegation of those that graduated last year who are in Juba to pursue this issue of tickets but they have been thrown out of some offices, which is not good.

“We are not begging, we are citizens of South Sudan, we were brought here legally with the approval of the parliament of South Sudan and that whenever we finish here we will have our return tickets. Why are there no return tickets when we are done with the graduation.

You have been here for six years.”

South Sudanese officials in Harare did not respond to calls and messages sent on their mobile phones about the students’ plight. - Ezra Sibanda, Voice of America

 

 

A publication by Research ICT Africa (RIA) within the framework of its BIO-ID project, which monitors the digital ID systems in 10 African countries, has examined the shortcomings of the Huduma Namba system in Kenya and suggested ways in which it can be improved.

According to the RIA’s findings, there is the need for Kenya to focus registration for the digital identity among poor and marginalized people who are said to constitute the largest percentage of those who lack legal identification documents.

Kenya, the report adds, must not focus only on numbers but adopt a more holistic and inclusive approach which also factors in issues around human rights such as being able to protect people from the dangers that may arise from the use of their identity data.

In an interview that is part of a series of the RIA project, an advocate of the High Court of Kenya and research fellow with the Center for Intellectual Property and Information Technology Law (CIPIT) at Strathmore University, Grace Mutungu’u, states that too much of the politics surrounding ID spells danger for vulnerable and marginalized groups.

“Any new identity system should first resolve longstanding problems for those who have difficulties accessing the document and prioritize those without any identification…Since we have experience with security agencies using national ID to deny people freedom of movement, arrest them and threaten them, the new ID system ought to be conceptualized from a different paradigm,” said Mutungu’u in the interview.

Kenya’s Huduma Namba project has been rocked by controversy since its launch. In the past, groups, such as the Nubian Rights Forum, have called for certain reforms in order that millions of citizens are not marginalized by or excluded from the system. - Ayang Macdonald, BiometricUpdate.com

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