Traces of ancient prehumans in the fossilized sediments of the beach at Trachilos on the Greek island of Crete have been dated at 6.05 million years old, the oldest known footprints of ancient human ancestors.
According to an international team of researchers from Germany, Sweden, Greece, Egypt and England, led by Tübingen scientists Uwe Kirscher and Madeleine Boehme of the Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and Paleoenvironment at the University of Tübingen, the oldest known traces of prehumans were found on the Mediterranean island of Crete, and they at least six million years. Their research was published in Scientific Reports on October 11.
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Footprints of fossilized beach deposits were found near the West Crete village of Trachilos and information about this was published in 2017.
In September of the same year local high school teacher stole eight footprints. Soon he was arrested, and the fossils were returned to their place.
Using geophysical and micropaleontological methods, researchers now date them 6.05 million years ago, making them the oldest direct evidence for the use of the human foot for walking.
“The tracks are nearly 2.5 million years older than the Australopithecus afar (Lucy) tracks from Laetoli in Tanzania,” says Uwe Kirscher. This puts footprints from Trachilos the same age as the fossils of the erectus Orrorin tugenensis from Kenya. Finds associated with this biped include thigh bones, but no foot bones or footprints.
Thus, the dating of the Cretan footprints sheds new light on the early evolution of human movement over six million years ago. “The oldest human foot used for upright walking had a foot with a strong parallel big toe and consistently shorter lateral toes,” explains Per Ahlberg, a professor at Uppsala University and co-author of the study. “The foot was shorter than that of Australopithecus. The arch was not yet pronounced, but the heel was narrower. “
Six million years ago, Crete was connected to mainland Greece through the Peloponnese. In the words of Professor Madeleine Boehme: “We cannot rule out a connection between the author of the track and the possible prehuman Graecopithecus freybergi.” A few years ago, Boehme’s team identified this previously unknown pre-human species in modern Europe based on fossils from 7.2 million-year-old deposits in Athens, just 250 kilometers away.
In addition, the study confirms the recent research and theses of the Boehme group, according to which, six million years ago, the mainland of Europe and the Middle East was separated from humid East Africa by a relatively small part of the Sahara Desert. Geochemical analysis of Crete beach deposits, which are six million years old, show that desert dust from North Africa was carried there by wind. Scientists have reached an age of 500 to 900 million years ago when dating dust-sized mineral grains. These time periods are typical of North African desert dust, the authors say.
Recent studies in paleoanthropology have also shown that the African monkey Sahelanthropus may be excluded from the list of human ancestors, unlike Orrorin tugenensis, which originated in Kenya and lived from 6.1 to 5.8 million years ago, being the oldest prehuman in Africa. says Boehme. Thus, short-term desertification and geographic distribution affected early human ancestors and this could be more closely related than previously thought. On the one hand, the phase of desertification 6.25 million years ago in Mesopotamia may have initiated the migration of European mammals, possibly including monkeys, to Africa. On the other hand, the second phase of the closure of the continents by the Sahara 6 million years ago could allow the separate development of the African pre-human Orrorin tugenensis to exist in parallel with the European pre-human. According to this principle, called by Boehme the “desert swing”, successive short-term desertification in Mesopotamia and the Sahara caused the migration of mammals from Eurasia to Africa.