Researchers are fascinated by footprints that appear to be made 5.7 million years ago and debate continues to rage on about whether they are from our human ancestors.
Ancient hominin footprints found on the island of Crete have thrown our understanding of human evolution out the window. Most scientists and historians alike believed that after separating from the chimp ancestors our hominin forefathers developed and stayed in Africa until around 1.5 million years ago. Yet here in Crete prints have been recovered that belong to a creature that would have lived over 5 million years ago. This would suggest that our human ancestors could have been living in Europe at the same time while they developed in Africa. This interesting discovery shines a light on the fact that human evolution is a much more complex and mysterious tale than first thought.
Currently, the oldest footprints that we know of are those found in Laetoli, Tanzania. These footprints called the Laetoli series are dated to be from 3.6 million years ago. This human ancestor is named the Australopithecus and is known to have had a foot function which mirrors our own.
So are these Crete footprints human-like?
Much more research is needed to confirm what type of animal made these prints, however, it appears that the footprints have definitely been made by an animal that walks upright. The animal appears to have walked on the soles of his feet rather than his toes, yet the footprints show a clearly the existence of a big toe like our own. This supports the theory that these footprints have been left by one of our hominin ancestors because an ape’s big toe sticks out sideways. The paper does note that the footprints are much slimmer than the shape of human footprints but argues this could have been due to them being left in the wet mud.
Could it not have been left by a Gorilla?
The big toe argument does actually lead to another debate. The feet of Gorillas also have a big toe placed pretty close to their other toes. It is widely agreed that all the animals that today create the African savannah such as giraffes, antelopes, and rhinos at some point lived in the southern Balkans area of Europe. As landscape and climates changed they ended up migrating from the Balkans into Africa. Could some sort of great ape or gorilla have decided to stay in Crete?
Definitely, more research is needed to confirm what sort of creature has left these footprints, but their discovery is certainly very interesting! The team of researchers behind the study has confirmed they will be making their data accessible to other institutions so one will hope that with further tests and scans it will shine a light on the mystery that is human evolution.