Oldest human footprints restored, opened to the public in Italy

November 14th, 2007 - 2:19 am ICT by admin  
Long known by the local population as “ciampate del diavolo,” or “devil’s trails,” the prints were identified in 2003 when two amateur archaeologists discovered the tracks, which spread for about a square mile. The archaeologists reported the find to Paolo Mietto of the University of Padua, and his colleagues.

Recently, Mietto discovered that the trail goes on.

“We have just found another set of human and animal tracks. It looks like this was a rather popular area,” said Mietto.

As of now, the scientists have isolated about 100 prints, extending along six trails.

Dating of the ash deposit has revealed that the tracks - complete with raised arches, ball and heel impressions - are the oldest human footprints ever discovered.

Mietto said the depth of the prints suggested that most were made by people who stood under 5 feet tall.

“The earliest footprints were found in Africa and are believed to be about 3.6 -million years old. But they belong to a pre-human species, probably to a hominid ancestor called Australopithecus. These footprints clearly show the plantar arch, which is typical of the genus Homo,” said Mietto.

Mietto said the footprints suggested that there were at least six individuals walking by the volcano, across a soft mixture of rock fragments, ash and gases.

“Obviously, the terrain wasn’t scorching enough to stop them. As they walked, they left behind extremely accurate moulds,” said Mietto, adding that as the volcano erupted, it covered the prints with a thick layer of ash, preserving them forever.

“The idea that these individuals were escaping an eruption is attractive, but very unlikely. Indeed, one track leads toward the volcano’s crater. It is a rather improbable direction for someone trying to escape an eruption,” said Mietto.

He said one particular trackway, 8.6 meters (28 feet) long, he discovered, was really intriguing.

It consisted of 19 footprints and some palmprints, which indicated that the early humans occasionally put a hand on the ground to steady themselves on steep and slippery slopes.

“This find is unique, as previous footprints were all found on flat ground. This is the first evidence that Homo erectus could descend slopes using hands,” Discovery News quoted Mietto, as saying.

He said though tourists cannot place their feet directly into the fossilized prints, they can closely follow the trackways.

“Our ancestors left us a unique witness and it is our duty to preserve it,” said Sandro De Franciscis, president of the Caserta province. (ANI)

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