Washington, September 16 (ANI): A team of researchers from the Appalachian State University, US, is investigating in Tanzania, East Africa, what may represent the oldest known and best-preserved trackways of modern humans (Homo sapiens) in the world.
The research is being carried out by Dr. Cynthia Liutkus an assistant professor in Appalachian State University's Department of Geology, and Kate McGinnis, an undergraduate student assistant in the University.
While the footprints of the modern humans have been preserved in hardened ash, Liutkus and McGinnis used a "no shoes" rule to avoid any possible damage while they worked.
The women spent several weeks in Tanzania this summer documenting trackways, or routes, used by Homo sapiens some 120,000 years ago.
The footprints, 58 in all, are approximately 120,000 years old.
The footprints, many of them measuring about 10 inches long, show all five toes and the ball of the foot of the modern human who walked along the trackway or path in northern Tanzania. "While the site has been known for years, our team was the first to begin an organized investigation of these footprints. They are amazing," said Dr. Cynthia Liutkus.
Similar to the Laetoli footprints that also are in Tanzania but are about 3.2 million years old and attributed to the early human species Australopithecus afarensis, the Ngare Sero footprints are pressed into an ash layer that has been radiometrically dated to be approximately 120,000 years old.
Given that modern fossil and genetic evidence points to the evolution of modern humans (Homo sapiens) in Africa around 200,000 years ago, this makes the Ngare Sero footprints the oldest known trackways of our modern ancestors.
While there are other sites, specifically in South Africa, that contain footprints of ancient Homo sapiens, they do not contain discrete and traceable trackways of multiple individuals like the Ngare Sero site.
Of the 58 prints uncovered this summer, there appear to be at least three different individuals that can be identified based on the size measurements of the footprints, and several of the trackways can be traced for large distances.
The smallest footprints of perhaps a female or juvenile are arranged in a trackway that continues for more than 12 meters and contains 18 individual prints.
"With the data we collected this summer, we hope to reconstruct the height, weight, and gait of the individuals that made these traces, and determine which nearby volcano produced the footprinted ash layer," Liutkus said. (ANI)