During a holiday in Western Crete in 2002, palaeontologist Gerard D. Gierliński noticed some striking footprints near the village of Trachilos. He had no time to investigate, and it was not until 2010 that Gierliński returned to Crete with the intention of studying what he had found. He quickly confirmed that the footprints were hominoid, at which time an international team of scientists assembled on the island to try and date the find.
Research using geophysical and micro-palaeontological techniques dated the footprints to approximately 6.05 million years ago. That means that they are 2.5 million years older than the tracks attributed to Australopithecus afarensis (known as Lucy) found in Laetoli in Tanzania. This makes the Trachilos footprints the oldest in the world, dating from roughly the same time as the fossils of Orrorin tugenensis found in Kenya. That specimen walked upright, although there are differences between the two in the thigh and foot bones.
The Trachilos footprints provide us with new insights into early human evolution. Professor Per Ahlberg of the University of Uppsala explains: “The earliest human foot used for walking in an upright posture had a ball, with a strong parallel large toe and the other toes progressively shorter. The foot had a shorter sole than that of Australopithecus. There was as yet no obvious arch and the heel was smaller.”
Text Harrie Wolters
Translation Alun Harvey