National Geographic : 1997 Feb
THE DAWN OF HUMANS The First By RICK GORE SENIOR ASSISTANT EDITOR Photographs by KENNETH GARRETT Art by RICHARD SCHLECHT Few scientific fields stir debate as intensely as does the search for human ancestors. Strong emotions and deeply held religious beliefs crash against the physical evidence presented by paleoanthropologists. Some people do not accept the findings and interpretations of these scientists; rather they place humans on a family tree all their own, apart from other forms of life on earth. Others agree with the scientists who hold that evolution is a fact of life. Even within the scientific community debates are passionate-not about whether the evolution from apelike creatures to humans took place but about the manner in which the long process occurred. This report is one in a series on the dawn of humans that examines the most important discoveries from this contentious field and the meanings scientists draw from them. -THE EDITOR Leaving tracks in rain-wet volcanic ash, primates crossed Tanzania's Laetoli plain 3.6 million years ago. Archaeologist Fiona Marshall and project leader Martha Demas discuss their team's efforts to conserve this unique record of our distant kin, who traveled around East Africa much as we do: side by side, upright and striding.