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Who Left These Odd Footprints in Tanzania 3.6 Million Years Ago?—Laetoli Footprints

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When they were on an expedition in Tanzania in 1978, Mary Leakey and her husband Louis Leakey—one of the greatest anthropologists of the twentieth century—found a collection of 3.6 million-year-old footprints from an early human species.

A volcanic eruption is supposed to have preserved hominid footprints on the planet. The oldest footprints ever found were three imprints found in Laetoli, Tanzania’s Arusha Region.

During the 1978 expedition, Mary Leakey saw some odd marks on the volcanic ash ground and immediately warned her husband. When they looked closely, they saw that the impressions of three people resembled human footprints quite a little. But there was a problem.

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When the date was established, the Laetoli footprints were estimated to be at least 3.6 million years old. Science cannot possibly agree with this. The discovery was looked at by professionals in anthropology, animal marking, archaeology, and other fields. They all agreed they were people.

Specialists were baffled by the tracks since they were barely different from those of modern man. The footprint was determined to be that of “Australopithecus afarensis,” despite the possibility that this may prove that man existed millions of years ago.

“The initial creatures who made these imprints were bipedal, with big toes pointing in the same direction as the rest of their foot. This shows that the early human feet were more human-like than ape-like since apes have huge toes that are substantially divergent and allow them to climb and grasp objects with their thumbs. The footprints also show that these prehistoric individuals moved similarly to modern humans, with a “heel-strike” gait (the heel of the foot hits first) and a “toe-off” (the toes push off at the end of the stride).

At nearby Site A, a second set of mysterious footprints were partially discovered in 1976, but they were dismissed as bear-made. Recently, the Site A footprints at Laetoli were re-excavated, and a detailed comparative analysis revealed that an early human—a bipedal hominin—created them.

According to senior author Jeremy DeSilva, an associate professor of anthropology at Dartmouth, “we now have good evidence from the Site A footprints that there were many hominid species walking bipedally on this terrain, but in different ways and on different feet.” Since the 1970s, this evidence has been accessible. We were only able to arrive here thanks to the discovery of these remarkable traces and further in-depth investigation.

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Laetoli Site A photogrammetric model displaying five hominid footprints. with thanks to scitechdaily.com

The abundance of Precambrian Eon tools and manufactured items found in the area has experts particularly baffled. As a result, even if their chronology is disputed, the presence of chemicals that need the capacity of an intelligent person to manufacture them lends weight to the idea that the Laeoli footprints are those of humans.

Other experts believe that the age and size of the imprints provide few choices, despite the fact that identifying the species to which the footprints belong is extremely difficult. The closest species is thus “Homo ergaster” or, at most, an early “Homo erectus.”

It’s important to note that Homo ergaster was the first hominid with extremities proportions that were similar to modern humans’. The Laetoli site is close to Serengeti National Park and is located about 45 kilometers southwest of Olduvai Gorge, also known as Oldupai Gorge. The site, which is Plio-Pleistocene in age, is well-known for having human footprints preserved in volcanic ash.

On the Greek island of Crete, hominid footprints were discovered in 2002. Researchers later determined that they were created 5.7 million years ago. In 2017, Dr. Per Ahlberg of Uppsala University and his colleagues came to the conclusion that the footprints discovered preserved in a Cretan rock were made by an ancestor of modern humans and were 5.7 million years old.

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A cast of the Laetoli A3 footprint is shown on the left, while a cast of the Laetoli G1 footprint is shown on the right (on right). The Laetoli A3 and G footprints have the same length, but the former is wider in the forefoot. Eli Burakian/Dartmouth is on the right, while Jeremy DeSilva is on the left.

This ground-breaking finding challenged beliefs that claimed that humans originated in Africa by showing that they may have evolved in Europe. A scientific article published in Scientific Reports states that fresh evidence points to the 50 imprints being older than previously thought—by more than 300,000 years.

Despite the fact that modern science has recently made incredible strides, the origin of the human being is still a mystery. The Laetoli footprints are therefore likely to be human, yet they are exceedingly ancient.

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Who Left These Odd Footprints in Tanzania 3.6 Million Years Ago?—Laetoli Footprints