FOOTPRINTS OF MYSTERY
By Shai Kuganesan
A set of ancient footprints have recently been discovered on a Greek island, bringing with it a wave of controversy regarding humanities ancestry. The footprints are supposedly 5.7 million years old but they appear to be made by one of our Hominin (human or early form of human) ancestors. At the time, Hominins were said to be confined within Africa, but this new discovery seems to suggest a different controversial theory, that there may have been Hominins living in Eastern Europe as well.
Our ancestry is very difficult to piece together. Early Hominin evolution has been a real mystery and challenge to scientist and archaeologists for decades, but there are some facts we know regarding our history. We diverged from chimpanzees around 7 to 13 million years ago, and they are our closest relatives. Compared to this, the earliest undoubted Hominin fossils were found in east Africa and date back to around 4 million years. There are some older, possible hominin fossils from roughly 6 to 7 million years ago from Kenya and Chad, but these locations are roughly 2500 kilometres apart. Gerard Gierliński of the Polish Research Institute in Warsaw discovered the new, controversial footprints another 2500 km away from Chad, on the island of Trachilos near Crete.
There are quite a lot of similarities between this footprint and Hominin feet. Most notably, they were clearly left by an animal that walked on the sole of its feet, like us and other hominins, rather than walking just on its toes. It is also clear that the track was made by an animal that had 5 toes, with one being particularly large, another feature found in many Hominins. Furthermore, there seem to be no claw marks, which is also consistent as hominins have toenails rather than claws. “They are almost without doubt actual footprints of a bipedally-walking animal,” says Robin Crompton at the University of Liverpool in the UK, who has analysed other Hominin footprints, but it is still unclear what sort of animal left these footprints.
There is also another alternative theory that these prints belong to an ape, unrelated to hominins who also evolved to stand upright for at least some time. Other researchers from this field have also pointed out how the footprints are similar to that of modern gorillas more than chimpanzees. The footprints could have also been left by a distantly-related ape that evolved similar feet to hominis about 5.7 million years ago. Either way, this discovery will help us unearth the ever-shrouding mystery behind our ancestry and lineage.