Ancient Tracks May Be The Oldest Hominin Footprints Ever Found, Scientists Say

It is extremely difficult to unravel pre-human history. The Neanderthals did not write any early writings that would have summarized all the differences between the Orrorin and Australopithecus.
We are finding more ancient bones every day, but they are still very few, which makes it difficult to analyse and catalog fossil discoveries into any of the species of Homo or Graecopithecus and all the other genera.

However, bones are not the only trace our hominin ancestors left. In some cases their footprints were preserved by the sand.

According to 2017 reports, a team of researchers discovered and analysed over 50 footprints at Trachiolos Beach on Crete's Greek island Crete. These were believed to have been left by an ancient hominin-like creature 5.7 million years back.

This week, a new study has shown that the hominin-like tracks could be as old as 6.05million years. It is now 350,000 years older than previously thought.

Homo sapiens is not found in fossil records before 300,000. Also, our sister species Homo neanderthalensis was only discovered around 430,000 years ago. So we are talking about our great-great, great-great, (probably add a few more greats), ancestors.

Australopithecus Afarensis, an ancient primate, is now closer to the age range. It was a preserved skull called Lucy that dates back to 3.9 million years ago.

This footprint is actually so old that the team suggests that Graecopithecus Freybergi, a primate that has tooth specimens estimated to be 7.2million years old, could have been responsible for the footprints.

Madelaine Bhme, University of Tbingen paleontologist, stated that it was impossible to rule out a connection between the producer of these tracks and the pre-human Graecopithecus Freybergi.

All those ancient hominins had feet that were different as we went from swinging in the trees to walking upright, and footprints let us see where we were at that time.

The team writes that "this morphology includes characters which are currently considered [to] being unique to hominins such the presence of a foefoot ball and a robust hallux placed alongside the distal margins of the sole and the digits II through IV becoming increasingly shorter."

These are combined with generic primate traits like the absence of a longitudinal median arch, a shorter sole, and a heel which is not bulbous."

It's not all agree that it is an ancient hominin, however, and it can sometimes be difficult to prove an answer when you look at footprints.

"This interpretation has been controversial, and several counter-interpretations have been made," the team writes.

"For instance, Meldrum and Sarmiento suggested the Trachilos tracks might have been made in non-hominin primates with an adducted Hallux. They illustrated this by using a reference to a gorilla footprint.

Researchers maintain that none have disproved the possibility of these tracks being related to G. freybergi, an early human ancestor.

It was also unclear how the fossil footprint was dated, so researchers began to examine the dates of the site in the Platanos Basin of northwestern Crete and the Vrysses Group.

The team used Trachiolos Beach's micropaleontological and paleomagnetic methods to analyze 57 samples. This allowed them to date the footprints back to approximately 6.05 millions years ago.

These footprints were discovered on Crete, not Africa, in case anyone has forgotten. Crete could have been connected to mainland Greece at this time, but it raises more questions about the origins of ancient hominins and casts doubt on the 'out-of-Africa' theory.

The researchers explained in their paper that "the evolutionary history of hominins and dispersal patterns are issues of debate".

Although many publications suggest that they originated in Africa, evidence suggests that they may have originated in Eurasia. They add that there is evidence for a Miocene presence of Miocene Hominins in Europe, including both trace fossils and body.

There are many complicated and messy webs to unravel when it comes to ancient human ancestors that have been around for millions of years.

We are still learning how complicated our family tree can get.

Scientific Reports published the research.