University of Tübingen: Oldest footprints dated by pre-humans on Crete

The oldest known footprints of pre-humans come from the Mediterranean island of Crete and are at least six million years old. This is the conclusion reached by an international team of researchers from Germany, Sweden, Greece, Egypt and England, led by the Tübingen scientists Uwe Kirscher and Madelaine Böhme from the Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment at the University of Tübingen. The study was published in the journal Scientific Reports .

The footprints from petrified beach sediments became known in 2017 at Trachilos. Using geophysical and micropaleontological methods, they could now be dated to 6.05 million years ago and are therefore the oldest direct reference to a human-like walking foot. “The tracks are almost 2.5 million years older than the tracks from Laetoli in Tanzania, which are ascribed to Australopithecus afarensis (Lucy),” reports Uwe Kirscher. The prints are the same age as the fossils of the well-known orrorin tugenensis from Kenya. Thigh bones, among other things, have been preserved from this biped, but no foot bones or footprints whatsoever.

The dating of the Cretan footprints therefore sheds new light on the early evolution of human walking over six million years ago. “The oldest human walking foot had the ball of the ball, with a close-fitting and robust big toe, as well as continuously shortening side toes,” explains Per Ahlberg, professor at Uppsala University and co-author of the study. “The sole of his foot was shorter than that of Australopithecus . An arch of the foot was not yet pronounced and the heel was narrower. “

Today’s island of Crete was still connected to the Greek mainland six million years ago via the Peloponnese. According to Professor Madelaine Böhme “it cannot be ruled out that the creator of the traces is related to the possible pre- human Graecopithecus freybergi ”. A few years ago, Boehme’s team identified Graecopithicus fossils from 7.2 million year old deposits in Athens, which is only 250 kilometers away, as a previously unknown pre-human species in today’s Europe.

Further results of the study also confirm the latest research and theses by the Böhme team, according to which six million years ago the European and Near Eastern mainland were separated from humid East Africa by a brief Sahara expansion. The geochemical analysis of the six million year old beach deposits on Crete suggests that desert dust from North Africa was transported there by wind. The team dated dust-sized mineral grains to an age between 500 and 900 million years ago. According to the authors, these periods are typical for North African desert dust.

The latest research in paleoanthropology also suggested that the African great ape Sahelanthropus could be excluded as a biped and that Orrorin tugenensis, who came from Kenya and was 6.1 to 5.8 million years old, was the oldest prehistoric man in Africa, according to Böhme. Brief desertification and the geographical distribution of early human precursors could therefore be more closely related than previously assumed: On the one hand, a desertification phase 6.25 million years ago in Mesopotamia could have initiated a migration of European mammals and possibly great apes to Africa. On the other hand, the partial sealing off of the continents by the Sahara 6 million years ago could lead to a separate development of the African pre-humansOrrorin tugenensis and a European prehistoric man. According to this principle called “desert swing” by Böhme, successive short-term desertification in Mesopotamia and the Sahara controlled the migration of mammals from Eurasia to Africa.