6 million year old hominin footprints from Crete

Sciencealert.com

sciencealert.com — The human foot is distinctive. Our five toes lack claws, we normally present the sole of our foot flat to the ground, and our first and second toes are longer than the smaller ones.

In comparison to our fellow primates, our big toes are in line with the long axis of the foot – they don’t stick out to one side.

This research, published in the Proceedings of the Geologist Association, is controversial as it suggests that the earliest human ancestors may have wandered around southern Europe as well as East Africa.

The footprints are small tracks made by someone walking upright on two legs – there are 29 of them in total.

They range in size from 94 mm to 223 mm, and have a shape and form very similar to human tracks. Non-human ape footprints look very different; the foot is shaped more like a human hand, with the big toe attached low on the side of the sole and sticking out sideways.

The footprints were dated using a combination of fossilised marine microorganisms called foraminifera and the character of the local sedimentary rocks.

 

Cradle of humanity

The “cradle of humanity” has long been thought to lie in Africa, with most researchers suggesting that Ethiopia was where the human lineage originated.

The oldest known footprints before were found at Laetoli in Tanzania and come from the next geological time interval, the Pliocene. These are some 3.66 million years old and even more human-like than those of Trachilos.

Crete was not an island at this time but attached to the Greek mainland, and the environment of the Mediterranean region was very different from now.

The discovery comes just months after another study reported the discovery of 7 million-year-old Greek and Bulgarian fossil teeth from a hominin ape dubbed “El Graeco”.

This is the oldest fossil of a human-like ape, which has led some to suggest that humans started to evolve in Europe hundreds of thousands of years before they started to evolve in Africa.

But many scientists have remained sceptical about this claim. The presence of  hominids in Europe and Africa simply shows that both continents are possible “homelands” for the group.

In theory, El Graeco could be responsible for the Trachilos foorprints but without any limb or foot bones it is impossible to tell.