Professor Matthew Bennett has been awarded a Standard Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) grant worth £880,000, in collaboration with Professor Robin Compton of Liverpool University, to continue research into the evolution of the human gait in our ancestors.
In 2009, Professor Bennett was the lead author of a landmark paper published in the acclaimed journal Science which revealed new evidence of early human development. The study, which featured on the front cover of Science, concluded that footprints discovered near Ileret in Northern Kenya were left by one of our evolutionary ancestors, Homo erectus.
Professor Bennett and an international team of colleagues believe that the prints, made between 1.51 and 1.53 million years ago, show clear evidence that Homo erectus had a modern foot anatomy and function, and walked much like we do today. This important feature is viewed as vital to the shift in cultural and biological adaptations of Homo erectus, believed to be the first species to migrate from Africa.
The footprints are preserved in fine-grained mud on two distinct sedimentary layers in a single outcrop at Ileret. These surfaces have been dated precisely via volcanic ash layers and digitally scanned by Professor Bennett to create three-dimensional digital elevation models accurate to a fraction of a millimeter. Laser scanning not only provides a unique method of analysis, but also allows for the footprints to be preserved where they are and shared digitally around the world.
“I’m delighted that Professor Compton and I have been successful in obtaining this funding which will mean that our work on these ancient footprints can continue,” said Professor Bennett. “The award will help to fund vital resources in the lab and in the field and should lead us to uncovering further evidence of early man’s development.”