Human-like footprints could be over 6 million years old
By T.K. Randall
October 22, 2021 · 3 comments
The site of the tracks, known as the Trachilos footprints. Image Credit: CC BY 3.0 Olaf Tausch
Tracks left by an ancient human ancestor in what is now Crete could be much older than previously believed.
Originally discovered by palaeontologist Gerard Gierlinski on a beach near Trachilos in Crete back in 2002, the prints were thought to have been created by a very early human-like species at a time when the Mediterranean Sea had temporarily dried out, leaving exposed sediment.
The prints had originally been dated back 5.7 million years, but now scientists have called this date into question by suggesting that they may in fact be even older at around 6.05 million years old.
If true, the findings could upend our current understanding of early human evolution.
Exactly which species the prints were left by has long remained a topic of debate, with an early human ancestor known as Graecopithecus freyberg
being a prime contender.
Even at 5.7 million years old, they predate Australopithecus afarensis
- the species to which the famous fossil specimen 'Lucy' belonged - by over 2 million years.
Some researchers however have cast doubt on the idea that the prints belonged to an early human species at all, instead suggesting that they were made by a species of late European ape.
"All we have from Europe is a group of pre-human apes," said biological anthropologist Israel Hershkovitz.
"They are interesting and attest to much more favorable climatic conditions [during the late Miocene], but I don't think they are directly or indirectly associated with human evolution."
Other scientists have noted that some of the prints are ambiguous, making it difficult to determine if they were left by an early human species or not.
As things stand, the claim that they may be 300,000 years older than previously believed - in addition to being left by a human ancestor - remains a somewhat controversial one.
Source: Smithsonian Magazine
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