It is an extinct volcano. It is in the north of Campania, Italy, and is called Roccamonfina. What makes it famous? And, according to local people, there are "the footsteps of the devil." It could only be him, they refer. Who else could walk on the lava? They are dozens of marks of human feet, hands and legs perfectly preserved in solid rock. They move away from the top of the mountain on a steep slope.
New footsteps were found
They were discovered in 2001. Scientists (of course) do not believe they are the footsteps of the devil. But of a human species still to be determined that it inhabited the area about 350,000 years ago. Ours, Homo sapiens, had not even appeared in Africa.
Thanks to a new study, 14 new impressions were found. A team of different Italian universities and scientific institutions is responsible. The surprising thing is that they climb the volcano instead of lowering it after an eruption. The report, published in the "Journal of Quaternary Science," confirmed that an adult's footprint is very similar to that of the Homo heilderbergensis from the Sierra de Atapuerca (Burgos). He is an ancestor of the Neanderthals, but the authors still do not dare to assign him their authorship. Even if it's not about the devil, it's still fascinating.
These human footprints were preserved under a layer of volcanic ash along with others of animals. Erosion revealed them in the municipality of Ciampate del Diavolo ("Devil's Way" or "Devil's Footprint"). They are the second oldest known hominid footprint set outside Africa, after the Happisburgh footprints (United Kingdom). The latter are 800,000 years old.
The footsteps of the devil left them hominids
Apparently, there were at least five individuals who left their mark. One of them adult and the other juveniles. But who were they? According to the researchers, the footprints left by the adult, 27 cm long and with a slightly raised arch, closely resemble the feet of hominids buried in the Sima de los Huesos in Atapuerca, 430,000 years old. Were they then members of the species known as Homo heilderbergensis?
Adolfo Panarello is an archaeologist at the University of Cassino and Southern Lazio and lead author of the study. He maintains that this attribution is still unclear. "They could have been Homo heilderbergensis. However, given that this species has been discussed again among paleoanthropologists, we have decided to keep the attribution to a specific species still pending, pending further data from future research, ”he explains.
Whoever they were, those who climbed the mountain had to feel a great curiosity or need. It takes courage to climb the slope of a volcano shortly after erupting. The group passed over the rubble, but the footprints indicate they were in no hurry. They walked uphill calmly, at the rate of one meter per second. The researchers deduce that they had to spend at least several hours after the eruption. Thus the 300 ° C lava was cooled below 50 ° C and the muddy and not yet hardened ground could be stepped on.
"Sometimes, volcanoes create areas where environmental conditions can be, for various reasons, extremely favorable for humans and animals," says Panarello. "We have some important clues to assume that the element of attraction could have been something related to subsistence, such as water," he adds. According to the team, the finding of artifacts around Roccamonfina and the new evidence seem to suggest that the place was not simply a transit area, but one that these hominids frequented. "We cannot forget that the people who left their mark were still nomadic groups of hunters and gatherers," said the scientist. More research could shed light on this point, in addition to explaining whether this volcanic environment was, in some way, an attractive place for them.