| 3 August 2014
Romanian cave holds some of oldest human footprints
Human footprints found in Romania's Ciur-Izbuc Cave represent the oldest such impressions in Europe, and perhaps the world, researchers say.
About 400 footprints were first discovered in the cave in 1965. Estimates of their age was based partly on their association with cave bear footprints and bones, and the belief that cave bears became extinct near the end of the last ice age. Scientists initially attributed the impressions to a man, woman, and child who lived 10,000 to 15,000 years ago, but recent radiocarbon measurements of two cave bear bones excavated just below the footprints indicate that Homo sapiens made these tracks around 36,500 years ago.
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. In some cases the heel, arch and even toes could be identified. Two cases of bears apparently overprinting humans help establish antiquity, and Carbon-14 dates suggest a much greater age than originally thought.
Unfortunately, insufficient footprints remain to measure movement variables such as stride length. However, detailed three-dimensional mapping of the footprints does allow a more precise description of human movements within the cave.
Published ages for other Homo sapiens footprints in Europe and elsewhere go back no more than 33,000 years. Scientists believe the footprints are evidence of the earliest known humans in northern Europe, previously only revealed through the discovery of animal bones and stone tools.
The Romanian footprints are one of the oldest to be described in a peer-reviewed journal, but a number of researchers believe they have found footprints that are much older.
Edited from ScienceNews (17 July 2014), The Blaze (18 July 2014), The Daily Mail UK (22 July 2014)
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