fossilized footprints found

Footprints more than 300,000 years old have been found along the side of an inactive volcano in southern Italy. Though footprints more than 3 million years old have been discovered in Tanzania’s Olduvai Gorge, they are thought to have been made by Australopithecus afarensis, a far-distant, primitive ancestor. The tracks in Italy are the oldest known to have been made by fully bipedal humans, according to Paolo Mietto and his colleagues at the University of Padua in Italy, in the March 13 Nature. The footprints, fossilized in volcanic ash deposited by an ancient eruption, are between 325,000 to 385,000 years old. The makers of the footprints walked upright on two feet, and, based on the size of the prints, less than 8 inches in length, they were just under 5 feet tall. Some of the prints show defined heel, arch, and toe indentations. A few palm prints also have been found, suggesting that the walkers used their hands to steady themselves as they descended the steep side of the then-active volcano.

This news brief appeared in the Random Data column of the Boston Globe’s Health/Science section on 3/18/2003.
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