A Child's Footprints from 700,000 Years Ago

Università La Sapienza 05 Mar 2018
1564 volte

There are very few archaeological sites that have provided us with fossilised human footprints dating earlier than 300,000 years ago. This makes the recent discovery at the Ethiopian site of Gombore II-2, part of the greater Melka Kunture site, all the more significant. The footprints found there can be dated to 700,000 years ago, thanks to the volcanic tufa that covers the entire site. The excavated area at the edge of a water hole was intensely frequented in pre-historic times by mankind and animals alike. Indeed, traces of various species are plentiful, along with those of human beings and very young children (age 1-3). In particular, one of the children left a series of heel- and toe-prints.

“It was a very intense moment for us,” explains Flavio Altamura, the young researcher who headed the study that has just been published on Nature’s Scientific Reports. “Gombore II-2 has provided us with what may be the closest thing we’ll ever see to a photo of prehistoric life. We can practically say that these are the first steps of a child from 700,000 years ago, while the rest of the group carried on their daily activities.” The site has preserved the traces of a full range of activities, including the production of lithic tools in obsidian and other volcanic rock and the butchering of various hippopotami. There also are superimposed traces on the bones left by the carnivores who approached the animal carcasses after the hominids were finished with them. This reveals that the hominids were in full control of the environment.

Gombore II-2 is important not only because of the rarity of human footprints in the archaeological record, but also because this is not just a site of passage, such as Laetoli, but an area which provides insight into daily activities,” explains Sapienza Antiquities Professor and Site Coordinator Margherita Mussi. “Moreover, this is the first time that we find the footprints of very young children and proof that they were around while the adults butchered animals and knapped stone. We also know what hominids these were, as fossil remains of Homo heidelbergensis – the common ancestor we share with the Neanderthals – were found nearby, albeit in an older archaeological stratum dating to 850,000 years ago.” The archaeological mission at Melka Kunture is coordinated by Professor Mussi and conducted together with a team of undergraduate, graduate and doctoral students from the Antiquities Department. In particular, this discovery was made by PhD student Flavio Altamura, the first author of the article that has just been published.

The study conducted on the footprints is the result of national and international scientific cooperation.

Sapienza University has been conducting research on the Melka Kunture site on the high basin of the Awash River for over fifty years.

Reference: Scientific Reports, Volume 8, Article N. 2815 (2018) - Archaeology and Ichnology at Gombore II-2, Melka Kunture, Ethiopia: Everyday Life of a Mixed-age Hominin Group 700,000 Years Ago - Flavio Altamura, Matthew R. Bennett, Kristiaan D’Août, Sabine Gaudzinski-Windheuser Rita T. Melis, Sally C. Reynolds & Margherita Mussi. doi:10.1038/s41598-018-21158-7

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