Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Oldest European Human Footprints Confirmed

In 1965 archaeologists discovered about 400 ancient human footprints in Ciur-Izbuc Cave in the Carpathian Mountains of Romania. At that time, researchers interpreted the footprints to be those of a man, woman and child who entered the cave by an opening which is now blocked but which was usable in antiquity.

The original age of the footprints was given as 10–15,000 years old based partly on their association with cave bear (Ursus spelaeus) footprints and bones, and the belief that cave bears became extinct near the end of the last ice age.

In danger of destruction

However, since their discovery, the human and bear evidence and the cave itself have attracted cavers and other tourists, with the result that the ancient footprints were in danger of destruction by modern humans – leaving only 51 of the original discovery.

But radiocarbon measurements of two cave bear bones excavated just below the footprints now indicate that Homo sapiens made these tracks around 36,500 years ago, say anthropologist David Webb of Kutztown University in Pennsylvania and his colleagues.

In an effort to conserve the footprints and information about them and to re-analyse them with modern techniques, Ciur-Izbuc Cave was restudied in summer of 2012. Although, it is impossible to confirm some of the original conclusions due to the destruction of nearly 350 footprints, the number of individuals present is now estimated to be six or seven.

Two cases of bears apparently overprinting humans help establish antiquity, and C-14 dates suggest a much greater age than originally thought.

Mapping human movement

Unfortunately, insufficient footprints remain to measure movement variables such as stride length, but detailed three-dimensional mapping does allow a more precise description of human movements within the cave

Analyses of 51 footprints that remain indicate that six or seven individuals, including at least one child, entered the cave after a flood had coated its floor with sandy mud, the researchers report in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology.

Published ages for other H. sapiens footprints in Europe and elsewhere go back no more than 33,000 years.

Other scientists have suggested that H. sapiens tracks at Tanzania’s Engare Sero site were 120,000 years old but these findings have still to be published, suggesting to Webb there may be a problem with dating or footprint authenticity.

Past Horizons. 2014. “Oldest European Human Footprints Confirmed”. Past Horizons. Posted: August 26, 2014. Available online:

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