Over 50 Fossilized Footprints Found in Sand Dated to be More Than 6 Million Years Old

A team of scientists recently discovered the age of over 50 footprints that were found in fossilized beach sediment near Trachilos, Crete in 2017. They are the oldest known pre-human footprints ever found, dating back more than six million years.

The international team of researchers published their findings in Scientific Reports on October 11. Utilizing geophysical and micropaleontological methods to find the age of the footprints the scientists estimated them to be about 6.05 million years old.

The scientists believe the footprints date from the Cenozoic era, making them the oldest footprints ever found of a human-like foot. According to scientists, the fossilized footprints shed a light on the early evolution of humans walking as well as the dispersal of mammals from Eurasia to Africa.

"The tracks are almost 2.5 million years older than the tracks from Laetoli in Tanzania, which are ascribed to Australopithecus afarensis (Lucy)," Uwe Kirscher, one of the scientists who led the study, said.

According to the scientists, these footprints are the same age as the orrorin tugenensis, an early species of humans that were discovered in 2000. However, fossils from the species include various bones but no footprints or foot bones.

"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," Per Ahlberg, a co-author of the study, said. "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, the island of Crete is the largest island in Greece and stretches approximately 160 miles. But during the time the footprints were made, scientists believe Crete was still connected to the Greek mainland. Due to this, the scientists were not able to rule out the possibility that the footprints came from the pre-human Graecopithecus freybergi.

This hominin was researched by one of the coauthors of the study, Madelaine Böhme, and her team in 2017. Her team identified fossils found in Athens, Greece that were over 7.2 million years old. Böhme said the footprints could have been created by these pre-humans.

6 million year old footprint found
The team of researchers said the footprints were intriguing because there was a big toe intact and showed the the hominin utilized the ball of the foot. Gatsi/Getty Images

According to Böhme, the Orrorin tugenensis was the oldest prehistoric man, originating in Kenya between 6.1 and 5.8 million years ago. Böhme believes the geographical distribution of early humans over 6.25 million years ago could have led to a large migration from Mesopotamia to Europe.

She also said that the blockage of particular continents from the desertification phase of the Sahara 6 million years ago possibly led to a separate development of pre-humans leading to African and European prehistoric men.

The theory Böhme has coined "desert swing," could explain how short-term desertification in the Sahara and surrounding areas "controlled" the migration of species from Eurasia to Africa.