Footprints will lead the way into new discoveries about our ancient human ancestors as scientists find around 400 well-preserved foot marks in Tanzania.
The marks were first discovered in 2006 by a local but first attracted the scientists’ attention back in 2008. The importance of the new findings was first noticed by Jim Brett, a conservationist who then went and notified the Appalachian State University geologist, Cynthia Liutkus-Pierce.
Liutkus-Pierce, together with a team of colleagues, followed and analyzed the footprints, with the study results being published in the Paleogeography, Paleoclimatology, Paleoecology journal last month.
According to the study, the marks belong to a group of prehistoric humans that lived sometimes between 5,000 to 19,000 years ago in an area close to Engare Sero. The village and marks are situated in the vicinity of an active volcano, which is also called the “mountain of God”.
Established to have been similar anatomically to the humans living in the late Pleistocene era, our ancestors’ footprints discovered in the area marked the chance to find out more about the type of people living during a time of great climatic change.
As the area was characterized by drastically changing weather and climate, the first difficulties encountered by scientists also came from nature, with the ash coating the marks first leading researchers to the conclusion that the marks were 120,000 years old.
Further studies of the ash revealed its volcanic erosion origins and the marks’ maximum age of 19,000 years. Nonetheless, the same ash-enrichened mud was one of the factors which helped preserve them.
The area in which the footprints were found is no bigger than a tennis court, but it still is one the largest areas of its kind and the fact that the 400 marks were gathered in such a well-delimited space can offer quite a lot of information.
The footmarks can offer data about the number of women, men, and children in the group, and also about their social structures. It was established that at least 24 distinct sets of marks were left by humans heading in various directions with over a dozen marks, discovered to have belonged to children and women, heading Southwest.
Researchers also found an area that was later called the “dance hall” due to its great number of prints and never before seen status.
As previous studies were based on skeletons, animal bones, and other scattered remains, the marks could offer more complex data, but also raise a number of questions.
One of the unanswered questions posed by the marks is their reason for being there, as it is believed that the zone was just as dry and hot then as it is nowadays, and the nearness of the volcano renders the waters of the lake undrinkable.
New questions will probably arise as the studies of the footprints advance, with the area of the discovery having been both protected and 3-D scanned in order to ensure the safety of the marks.
Image Source: Wikimedia