Africa’s Largest Collection of Human Footprints Was Discovered

Africa‘s largest collection of human footprints, with figures up to 400 and more, has been discovered in tempered volcanic sediment in northern Tanzania. The fossilized footprints are offering a rare glimpse at social life among ancient East African hunter-gatherers.

These impressions, located near a village known as Engare Sero, add up to the biggest collection of ancient human footprints ever discovered in Africa, according to evolutionary biologist Kevin Hatala from Chatham University in Pittsburgh and his colleagues.

The Largest Collection of Human Footprints Discovered so Far

People used to walk across a muddy coat of volcanic debris that dates back to between approximately 19,100 and 5,760 years ago, the team of scientists has reported on their paper published in the journal Scientific Reports on May 14th.

Dating of a diluted layer that partially overlaps footprint sediment reduces the age range for the footprints to between 12,000 and 10,000 years ago, according to the researchers. Engare Sero is located in the vicinity of two much older human footprint sites, namely, the almost 3.7-million-year-old Laetoli in Tanzania and the 1.5-million-year-old Ileret in Kenya.

Hatala’s team examined the footprint sizes at Engare Sero, as well as the distances between the impressions and which way they pointed to. One collection of fossilized prints was made by a group of 17 people walking southwest, the scientists determined. They then compared the tracks with modern footprints measurements and discovered that this group consisted of 14 women, two men, and a young boy.

The women may have been hunting for food, and the few males visited or accompanied them, the team suggested. Some present-day hunter-gatherings, such as Tanzania’s Hazda people, form mostly female food-gathering groups.

More Sets of Footprints to Analyze

In another set of six footprints, the impressions point northeast. Those tracks were not made by people walking in a group, the team speculates. Rather, the prints imply that two women and a man had wandered together slowly, a woman and a man had walked quickly, and another woman had run across the region.

Largest collection of human footprints discovered in Africa [Image: K. G. Hatala]
Hatala’s new research is ‘a nice piece of work,‘ even though it could not determine what ancient Engare Sero people were doing based on their footprints, explained geologist Matthew Bennett from Bournemouth University in Poole, England.

Numerous sets of footprint tracks, and not just the one group of 17 prints at Engare Sero, would be required to argue with conviction that hunter-gatherers back in time formed female foraging groups, Bennett said. Even then, scientists would not know for sure if such groups had been gathering plant foods or hunting animals.

Other footprint sites offer incredibly promising opportunities for analyzing ancient human behavior, according to Bennett. He is currently involved in research at White Sands National Park located in New Mexico, which has revealed tens of thousands of footprints of humans, mammoths, giant sloths, and other animals from around 12,000 years ago.

Early results of his work imply that humans hunted giant sloths, and Bennett hopes that studies there will provide more information with regard to Stone Age hunting.

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