5 million-year footprints test evolution theory
Scientists have discovered human-like footprints from Greece’s largest island Crete — dating back to 5.7 million years — that may put the established theories of early human evolution to the test.
Ever since the discovery of fossils of Australopithecus in South and East Africa during the middle years of the 20th Century, the origin of the human lineage has been thought to lie in Africa.
More recent fossil discoveries in the same region, such as the 3.7 million year old Laetoli footprints from Tanzania which show human-like feet and upright locomotion, have cemented the idea that hominins originated in Africa and remained isolated there for several million years before.
The discovery of the 5.7 million year old human-like footprints by researchers overthrows this simple picture and suggests a complex reality.
Human feet have a very distinctive shape, different from all other land animals. The feet of our closest relatives, the great apes, look more like a human hand.
The newly found footprints have an unmistakably human-like form. This is especially true of the toes. The big toe is similar to our own in shape, size and position.
However, what makes this controversial is the age and location of the prints. Studies in recent decades have led to the conclusion that all fossil human-ancestors older than 1.8 million years lived and evolved in Africa.
“The interpretation of these footprints is potentially controversial,” the authors wrote in the study, published to the journal Proceedings of the Geologists’ Association. “The print morphology suggests that the trackmaker was a basal member of the clade Hominini, but as Crete is some distance outside the known geographical range of pre-Pleistocene hominins we must also entertain the possibility that they represent a hitherto unknown late Miocene primate that convergently evolved human-like foot anatomy.”