Icon for: Kevin Hatala

KEVIN HATALA

George Washington University
Years in Grad School: 4
Judges’
Choice

Judges’ Queries and Presenter’s Replies

  • Icon for: Jeffrey Lidz

    Jeffrey Lidz

    Judge
    May 21, 2013 | 03:15 p.m.

    Can you describe what the next steps of this project are? What is still needed in order to move from your understanding of how footprints relate to body size and kinematics to understanding the transition in body type from Australopithecus to Homo?

  • Icon for: Kevin Hatala

    Kevin Hatala

    Presenter
    May 22, 2013 | 04:57 p.m.

    The next steps of our project will examine how some of the more intricate details of locomotion and foot anatomy – for example joint motions and aspects of the foot’s arches – are preserved in footprints across a wider range of sedimentary conditions. With reliable methods for predicting details of body form and function from footprints, we can better understand how exactly Australopithecus and Homo ‘accomplished’ being bipedal despite their very different anatomies. Comparisons of the Laetoli and Ileret fossil footprints will then help to inform us of how function may have driven changes in body form, or vice versa.

  • Icon for: Sandra Pinel

    Sandra Pinel

    Judge
    May 21, 2013 | 09:38 p.m.

    A facinating and professional study! Could you reflect on broader applications. Might a new understanding of human evolution inform other assumptions about human and environmental interactions, for example?

  • Icon for: Kevin Hatala

    Kevin Hatala

    Presenter
    May 22, 2013 | 05:17 p.m.

    Exactly! Fossil footprints must accumulate and be preserved over the course of hours to days, otherwise they will not fossilize. This sets them apart from typical fossil assemblages, where bones accumulate over thousands of years and sites are thus subject to substantial time-averaging.

    So with these footprints we can start to get a direct picture of how groups of early humans inhabiting the same landscape interacted with each other, and with the environment around them. We can begin to ask new and exciting questions about early human social behavior, and also address issues of time-averaging in reconstructing the environments in which those early humans lived.

  • May 21, 2013 | 11:00 p.m.

    Hi Kevin,
    Very interesting data collection! Could you give me more information about your participants? I am especially interested in how many participants were used and whether both women and men participate, since it seems likely that such distinctions in your modern participants would limit the generalizability to the fossil record, right?

  • Icon for: Kevin Hatala

    Kevin Hatala

    Presenter
    May 22, 2013 | 05:22 p.m.

    Thank you! The data I presented here come from about 50 adults, 25 men and 25 women. I have yet to find significant distinctions in their foot anatomy or locomotion (other than women being smaller on average) but we do continue to consider, in all of our analyses, sex as a potential source of variation. It will be very exciting if we do find that we can eventually distinguish the footprints of men and women!

  • Icon for: Wayde Morse

    Wayde Morse

    Judge
    May 21, 2013 | 11:46 p.m.

    Very well done. I would assume your predictions on body size and gait would match the fossil records from that period.

  • Icon for: Kevin Hatala

    Kevin Hatala

    Presenter
    May 22, 2013 | 05:26 p.m.

    Thanks! Our preliminary predictions do fit within the range of what we would expect given the known fossil skeletal evidence from Australopithecus and early Homo. We are lucky in that we are able to derive those predictions from ‘more complete’ pieces of fossil hominin anatomy, with an impression of the total foot rather than just a piece of one bone from the foot, for example.

  • Icon for: Gary Kofinas

    Gary Kofinas

    Judge
    May 22, 2013 | 12:28 a.m.

    Kevin — V interesting, I too am interested in the next steps of the inquiry to move this study forward. What kind of information and type of analysis would you consider doing next, let’s say if you had a large NSF grant?

  • Icon for: Kevin Hatala

    Kevin Hatala

    Presenter
    May 22, 2013 | 05:32 p.m.

    Thank you! I am very interested in studying how measures of gait performance (e.g., elastic energy return, gait efficiency) might be interpreted from footprints. If we can find ways to interpret those measures from fossil footprints, we can gain some really unique insights into how and why the Australopithecus to Homo transition may have occurred. It would certainly require different and more complicated experimental approaches and analytical techniques though!

  • Further posting is closed as the competition has ended.

Presentation Discussion
  • May 23, 2013 | 01:00 a.m.

    Really, really cool project! I love the many threads that need to be tied together to make the research possible: two separate sites with well-preserved footprints from millions of years apart, calibrating experiments using current human footprints to determine the biomechanical data available, and the fact that these should use people who have grown up walking barefoot. I don’t know this field very much, but to me your research seems like it will be very fruitful in confirming or reforming theoretical evolutionary hypotheses about bipedalism.

  • Icon for: Kevin Hatala

    Kevin Hatala

    Presenter
    May 24, 2013 | 08:20 a.m.

    Thanks, Michael! Given the encouraging results from our experimental work, we’re hopeful that we’ll be able to provide new and exciting insight to inform hypotheses regarding the anatomy and locomotion of hominins from two very different points in our evolution.

  • Icon for: Ashley Richter

    Ashley Richter

    Trainee
    May 23, 2013 | 05:16 p.m.

    Fabulous literal first steps! Really great consideration of outside experiment factors as you built the project. Looking forward to seeing more of your research as it proceeds to next levels.

  • Icon for: Kevin Hatala

    Kevin Hatala

    Presenter
    May 24, 2013 | 08:17 a.m.

    Thanks, Ashley! We acknowledge that we aren’t able to perfectly control every variable but we are trying our best!

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    Gillian Puttick

    Guest
    May 23, 2013 | 05:51 p.m.

    What a clear explanation of your techniques – most impressive condensation of much information into 3 minutes! Congratulations. I must confess to feeling a little wistful about not hearing any findings…while I understand that you are describing first steps, might you share some more specific questions and hypotheses you hope to address?

  • Icon for: Kevin Hatala

    Kevin Hatala

    Presenter
    May 24, 2013 | 08:16 a.m.

    Thanks, Gillian! Unfortunately, I am still in the data processing phase regarding the fossil trackways. But with results that are encouraging so far regarding our abilities to infer aspects of anatomy and locomotion from footprints, hopefully we’ll be able to say something very soon about those fossils! We’re specifically hoping to test ideas about how Australopithecus and Homo may have used different forms of bipedalism, and how their overall anatomy may have led to, or resulted from, selection for that behavior.

  • Further posting is closed as the competition has ended.