These ancestors did leave their mark. More than one, in fact. And they’re more enduring than anyone could have imagined. Researchers on the island of Crete were very surprised: these are the oldest pre-human footprints. How far back do they go? At least six million years.
Older than Lucy
The international team is led by the University of Tübingen. They made the magnificent find. They are footprints in fossilized beach sediments near the Cretan village of Trachilos.
The study is published in Scientific Reports. The researchers used geophysical and micropaleontological techniques. Thanks to that, the age of the tracks is known. The oldest pre-human footprints are 6.05 million years old. It is the oldest direct evidence of a human-like foot used for walking. No wonder they think they have found a treasure.
Uwe Kirscher is from the Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and Paleoenvironment at the University of Tübingen. He said “The footprints are impressive. Almost 2.5 million years older than the footprints attributed to Australopithecus afarensis (Lucy). These were found in Lae-toli, Tanzania”.
Where does this place the Trachilos footprints on Crete? Roughly the same age as the fossils in the Orrorin tugenensis from Kenya that walks upright. There are numerous finds related to this biped. They include femurs, but no bones or footprints.
Almost human foot
Trachilos footprints provide new insights into the beginnings of human ambulation. Professor Per Ahlberg of Uppsala University states:
“The oldest human foot used for upright walking had a ball. And a strong parallel big toe with successively shorter lateral toes. The foot had a shorter sole than the Australopithecus. The arch was not yet pronounced and the heel was narrower”.
Six million years ago, Crete connected with the Greek mainland via the Peloponnese. According to Professor Madelaine Böhme of the University of Tübingen:
“We cannot rule out a connection between the producer of the tracks and the possible pre-human Graecopithecus freybergi.”