They are six million years old and constitute the oldest direct standing evidence of a human ancestor used for walking, that is, these pre-human footprints are almost 2.5 million years older than the footprints attributed to Australopithecus afarensis (Lucy) of Laetoli in Tanzania.
This is what a recent study published in the journal Scientific Reports suggests that has dated the traces of fossilized sediments found a few years ago on a beach in Crete , near the village of Trachilos.
The most famous specimen we have recovered, one of the first members of Australopitechus afarensis ever discovered, is Lucy, born about 3.2 million years ago. It was named after its discoverer Donald Johanson , in 1974, in honor of a Beatles song, Lucy in the sky with diamonds , which was playing that night at the base camp of the researchers who were digging in the Awash Valley, in Ethiopia.
Now, an international team led by researchers from the University of Tübingen (Germany), have used geophysical and paleontological methods to date these new footprints, which represent the oldest direct evidence we have of the existence of a foot similar to the human and used for walking. .
Australopithecus afarensis , which lived 3.9 million years ago, was once considered one of the possible hominins to leave its tracks on Crete. However, this new study suggests that it was probably Graecopithecus freybergi , a primate that inhabited the Earth 7.2 million years ago and could potentially be the oldest direct ancestor of human beings . Graecopithecus is an extinct genus of hominids of which there is only one known species: Graecopithecus freybergi, known only from a skull fragment from 1944 .
Furthermore, the study confirms the thesis that six million years ago the European continent was separated from East Africa by a relatively brief expansion of the Sahara.
Oldest footprints of pre-humans identified in Crete: Six million year old fossilized footprints on the island show the human foot had begun to develop: https://t.co/9ymhyqGnB5 #Senckenberg #Evolution
– Universität Tübingen (@uni_tue) October 11, 2021
According to the research team:
This morphology includes characteristics that are currently considered unique to hominids, such as the presence of a ball on the forefoot, a robust, non-divergent hallux placed next to digit II on the distal margin of the sole, and digits II to IV each. shorter and shorter.
This trace, then, could be (if it is confirmed that we are dealing with such an old specimen) an example of very early standing, probably one of the adaptations that have most changed our evolutionary history . The good thing about standing is that it allowed us to save energy when moving around. Chimpanzees, when they have to walk on a treadmill wearing an oxygen mask in a laboratory, have been shown to require four times more energy than humans to travel a certain distance because they spend a lot of energy to permanently contract their back, hips and thigh muscles to avoid falling. For that reason, a chimpanzee barely walks 2 to 3 kilometers a day .
Determining which hominid species the tracks belong to is not an easy task, so we are still in the realm of speculation. Yet the discovery constitutes yet another vibrant piece to the puzzle of our ancestral heritage .