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Polish discovery of the oldest footprints of early hominins - a revolution in palaeontology?

14.09.2017 Nature, Recommended

Photo: Fotolia

The oldest known footprints of human ancestors have been preserved in Crete and are 5.7 million years old. The discovery made by the Polish researcher complicates the state of knowledge about human migration. The latest "Proceedings of the Geologists' Association" reported on the discovery - and its important implications for palaeontology.

Traditionally Africa has been considered the birthplace of mankind. In light of the latest research by Polish palaeontologists, however, it can not be ruled out that the first hominins appeared in Europe.


The discovery of footprints, the age of which is estimated at about 5.7 million years, in Trachilos, in the western part of Crete indicates that. (The age of the oldest previously known footprints of hominins has been estimated at 3.6 million years). This discovery may affect the previous findings of palaeontologists concerning, not only the time of the appearance of bipedal hominins - but also the place where the first representatives of our ancestors appeared - the spokesman for the Polish Geological Institute in Warsaw noted in a press release.


Dr. Gierliński discovered the oldest known footprints of human relatives in 2002, while on vacation in Crete. Dr. Gerliński specializes in the study of prehistoric footprints, including dinosaurs. At that time, he had initially determined that the footprints from Crete had been left by a mammal, but he did not conduct more detailed research.


He returned to the place of discovery in 2010 with palaeontologist Grzegorz Niedźwiedzki from Uppsala University (Sweden). More detailed studies allowed to determine that the 5.7 million years old footprints had been left by hominins - archaic human forms.


It is difficult to say which species they belonged to. Until now, Ardipithecus ramidus living in Ethiopia 4.4 years ago has been recognized as the direct ancestor of the later hominins. However, the latest discovery contradicts this theory, because the feet of Ardipithecus ramidus were still more ape than human.


On top of that, it has been thought that archaic people older than 1.8 million years originated directly from Africa. Previous theories on the evolution and migration of human ancestors proposed that even when the first archaic people had appeared, for the first few million years their reach was restricted to Africa alone. Only later forms began to migrate to Europe and Asia.


The latest discovery coinsides with new findings concerning the 7.2 million-year-old species Graecopithecus from Greece and Bulgaria. According to recent findings, that species should also be included in the tribe Hominini.


During the Miocene, in the period from which the footprints from Crete originated, the Sahara desert did not exist yet. There were savannahs all the way to the Mediterranean, while Crete was connected to mainland Greece. It could be a migration trail of early hominins.


Zofia Dubicka from the University of Warsaw, Andrzej Boczarowski from the University of Silesia, and the Park of Science and the Park of Science and Human Evolution in Krasiejów, as well as scientists from Greece, the US and the UK, are also the authors of the publication. (PAP)


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