Ancient humans in Crete six million years ago

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Published 19 October 2021 at 15.20

Home page. The oldest known human footprints have been found on the Mediterranean island of Crete and are at least six million years old, according to an international research team. They are significantly older than similar findings made in Africa and suggest that a European pre-human may have evolved separately, according to the study in Scientific Reports.

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Footprints from fossilized beach sediments were found near the village of Trachilos in western Crete, and an article about these finds was published in 2017.

Now the researchers have dated the footprints using geophysical and micropaleontological methods. They turned out to be 6.05 million years old and are thus the oldest direct evidence of a human-like foot used to walk.

– The tracks are almost 2.5 million years older than the tracks attributed to Australopithecus afarensis (Lucy) from Laetoli in Tanzania, says German researcher Uwe Kirscher in a press release.

The footprints in Trachilos are the same age as the fossils of the upright Orrorin tugenensis from Kenya. Finds from this two-legged creature include femurs, but there are no foot bones or footprints.

New light on the development of the foot
The dating of the Cretan footprints therefore sheds new light on it early development of human upright gait more than six million years ago.

– The oldest human foot used for upright gait had a forefoot with a strong parallel big toe and successively shorter lateral toes, says Per Ahlberg, professor at Uppsala University and co-author of the study.

– The foot had a shorter sole than Australopithecus. An arch had not yet been formed and the heel was narrower.

Six million years ago, Crete was connected to the Greek mainland via the Peloponnese.

– We can not rule out a connection between the made the footprints and the possible pre-human Graecopithecus freybergi, says Professor Madelaine Böhme.

Separate development
Several years ago, Bohemia's research team identified the previously unknown human species in what is now Europe based on fossils from 7.2 million-year-old deposits in Athens, just 250 kilometers away.

The study also confirms new research and theories of Bohemia's research group, according to which the European and neighboring continents were separated from East Africa six million years ago, through a relatively short-term expansion of the Sahara.

Geochemical analysis of Crete's six million year old beach deposits indicates that desert dust from North Africa was transported there by the wind. The research group reached an age of between 500 and 900 million years when they dated mineral grains. These time periods are typical of North African desert dust, according to the authors.

– New research in paleoanthropology has also suggested that the African apes Sahelanthropus did not walk on two legs, and that Orrorin tugenensis, which originated in Kenya and lived 6.1 to 5.8 million years ago, is the oldest pre-human in Africa, says Böhme.

According to research, there is a link between desertification in Mesopotamia and the Sahara and the geographical spread of early human predecessors. A desertification phase 6.25 million years ago in Mesopotamia may have initiated a migration of European mammals to Africa.

Similarly, the separation of the continents through the Sahara 6 million years ago may have enabled a separate development of the African prehuman Orrorin tugenensis parallels a European prehuman, according to researchers.