Africa’s biggest collection of ancient human footp

2022-04-12
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Africa’s biggest collection of ancient human footprints has been found More than 400 human footprints preserved in hardenedvolcanic sediment are providing a rare peek at social life among ancient EastAfrican hunter-gatherers. These impressions, found in northern Tanzania near a villagecalled Engare Sero, add up to the largest collection ofancient human footprints ever found in Africa, say evolutionary biologistKevin Hatala of Chatham University in Pittsburgh and his colleagues. People walked across a muddy layer of volcanic debris thatdates to between around 19,100 and 5,760 years ago, the researchers report May14 in Scientific Reports. Dating of athin rock layer that partly overlaps footprint sediment narrows the age rangefor the footprints to between roughly 12,000 and 10,000 years ago, the teamsays. Engare Sero lies in the vicinity of two much older hominidfootprint sites — nearly3.7-million-year-old Laetoli (SN:12/16/16) in Tanzania and 1.5-million-year-oldIleret (SN: 4/16/12) in Kenya. Sign Up For the Latest from Science NewsHeadlines and summaries of the latest Science News articles, delivered to your inbox Thank you for signing up! There was a problem signing you up. At Engare Sero, Hatala’s team analyzed foot impressionsizes, distances between prints and which way prints pointed. One collection oftracks was made by a group of 17 people walking southwest across the landscape,the researchers found. Comparisons with modern human footprint measurements indicatethat this group consisted of 14 women, two men and one young boy. The women may have been foraging for food, while a few malesvisited or accompanied them, the researchers speculate. Some present-dayhunter-gatherers, including Tanzania’s Hadza people, form largely femalefood-gathering groups. In another set of six tracks, the footprints point northeast.Those tracks probably weren’t made by people traveling in a group. Instead, theimpressions suggest that two women and a man had ambled along leisurely, awoman and a man had walked briskly, and another woman had run across the area, theresearchers say. Step by stepIn this illustrated map of ancient human footprints preserved at the Engare Sero site, 17 tracks heading southwest may have been made by a group of mostly women foraging for food. Several isolated footprints oriented to the southwest didn’t form tracks that could be analyzed. Another six tracks head northeast. Right and left footprints of the same individual appear in common colors. Orientation of ancient human footprints at Engare SeroK.G. Hatala et al/Sci Rpts 2020K.G. Hatala et al/Sci Rpts 2020Hatala’s new study is “a nice piece of work,” although it’shard to specify what ancient Engare Sero people were doing based on their footimpressions, says geologist Matthew Bennett of Bournemouth University in Poole,England. Many sets of footprint tracks — not just the one set of 17tracks at Engare Sero — would be needed to argue convincingly thathunter-gatherers at that time formed female foraging groups, Bennett says. Eventhen, researchers wouldn’t know if such groups had been gathering plant foodsor hunting prey. Other footprint sites present especially promising opportunities for studying ancient human behavior, Bennett says. He is involved in ongoing work at White Sands National Park in New Mexico that has uncovered tens of thousands of footprints of humans, mammoths, giant sloths and other creatures from around 12,000 years ago. Early results suggest that humans hunted giant sloths (SN: 4/25/18), and Bennett expects that research there will yield many more insights into Stone Age hunting. .image-mobile { display: none; } @media (max-width: 400px) { .image-mobile { display: block; } .image-desktop { display: none; } }

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