Third Grade’s Laetoli Footprints Track Human Evolution

DSC_4620 (1) As part of their studies of evolution of life on Earth, Ross third graders recently recreated one of the most important archeological finds in helping us understand the origins of humans—an 88-foot-long trail of footprints that was fossilized 3.6 million years ago at a volcanic site in Laetoli, Tanzania. 

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To prepare, students first learned that in 1978 renowned paleoanthropologist Mary Leakey uncovered two sets of prints created by Australopithecus afarensis. This species of hominid was bipedal (walked on two feet) and moved with a heel-toe stride like we do today.


Working in the sandbox at the Lower School, classmates walked in the sand to create a footprint trail like that at Laetoli. The third grade archaeologists then made casts of the footprints using plaster. The class integrated mathematics skills to measure the distance between the footprints, recreating the methods used to prove that the hominids were bipedal and to study the physiology of their legs. Later in the day, students excavated the casts and cleaned them in the classroom lab.

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“This was a significant undertaking for the students that involved a knowledge of archaeology, precise field and lab work, and documentation of their findings,” said Meghan Hillen, third grade teacher. “Ultimately, we learned that careful preservation of fossils and artifacts helps inform our research as cultural historians.”