Tanzania: largest group of human fossil footprints discovered.
Thousands of years ago, a group of 17 people took a walk through the mud in eastern Africa.
Amazingly, their footprints are still there today, and were recently identified by archaeologists.
With over 400 footprints, it’s the largest human fossil footprint site ever discovered in Africa, scientists announced in a new study published Thursday. The findings, which scientists say furthers our understanding of human life during the Late Pleistocene period, suggest a division of labor in ancient human communities.
“Footprint sites are rare in the human fossil record and they preserve exciting, direct windows into the past,” said Kevin Hatala, a paleoanthropologist at Chatham University in Pittsburgh, in a statement. “Here we have a richly-detailed snapshot of a group that walked across this landscape at a very specific moment in human history.”
The researchers dated the footprints to between 19,100 and 5,760 years ago.
“Based on our analysis of the sizes, spacings, and directions of the footprints, we believe they were made by a group of mostly adult females who were traveling together,” he said.
Specifically, scientists believe the group was likely made up of 14 adult females, two adult males and one young male.
Appalachian State University professor Cynthia Liutkus-Pierce, a study co-author, said that the footprints have been remarkably preserved within an ancient volcanic mudflow produced by the nearby Oldoinyo L’engai, a still-active volcano in the East African Rift. “These prints were pressed into wet ash, which dries almost like concrete,” said Liutkus-Pierce.
“The resilience of the hardened ash helps preserve the details of the footprints despite the natural erosion of the surrounding area over thousands of years,” she said.
The footprints are located in Engare Sero in northern Tanzania.
According to the study, the females who made the tracks were foraging together and were visited or accompanied by the males, as this behavior is seen today in modern hunter-gatherers such as the Ache and Hadza. The findings could indicate a division of labor based on sex in ancient human communities.
“We suggest that these trackways may capture a unique snapshot of cooperative and sexually divided foraging behavior in Late Pleistocene humans,” the authors wrote in the study.
The study was published in the peer-reviewed British journal Scientific Reports.