“What makes this discovery a controversial one, is the age and location of the footprints,” said one of the researchers.
The newly-discovered footprints from Crete may put the established narrative of early human evolution to the test write experts. The enigmatic set of footprints are believed to be around 5.7 million years old and were made at a time when previous mainstream research puts our ancestors in the African continent–with ape-like feet, and nowhere near the Mediterranean. This discovery could change everything.
Since the discovery of Australopithecus fossils in South and East Africa some 60 years ago, the origin of the human lineage has been firmly been placed on the African Continent.
However, a new finding in Greece—specifically on the small island of Trachilos near Crete, could challenge the history of evolution as we know it. This is mostly because mainstream scholars argue how early members of the human lineage, not only originated in Africa but remained isolated on the continent for several million years before eventually dispersing to Europe and Asia.
The research, published in Proceedings of the Geologists’ Association by an international team of experts, exposes the discovery of human footprints in the Cretan archipelago, which are believed to be approximately 5.7 million years old. This date is controversial for many reasons. First of all, the age itself is a mystery due to the fact that according to mainstream theories, 5.7 million years ago our ancestors lived in Africa. Mainstream scholars also argued that during that time, our ancestors had feet developed similar more to those than a monkey, rather than to modern humans.
Experts are surprised, and they should be.
Human feet have a very distinctive shape, unlike all other terrestrial animals: they combine a long plant, with five front tips pointing forward without claws, and the distinctive presence of a big toe is a significant detail. The feet of our closest relatives are more like a human hand with a kind of thumb protruding to one side.
Experts argue that the so-called Laetoli footprints, thought to have been made by Australopithecus, are very similar to those of modern humans except for the fact that the heel is narrower and the sole lacks a proper arch.
Ardipithecus ramidus—a species of Hominin classified as an Australopithecine of the Ardipithecus genus—from Ethiopia with an approximate age of 4.4 million years old, is the oldest known hominin with reasonably complete fossils but has a simian foot.
The researchers who described this specimen argued that it is a direct ancestor of later hominids, suggesting that a human-like foot had not yet evolved at that time.
Yet now you have 5.7 million- year-old footprints from Trachilos in western Crete and they have an unmistakably human shape: the big toe is similar to our own in shape, size and position; and the sole of the foot is proportionately shorter, but has the same general shape. This indicates unambiguously that they belong to an early hominid-something that could have been more primitive than the one that left the traces of Laetoli.
“What makes this controversial is the incredible age and location of the footprints,” says Professor Per Ahlberg at Uppsala University, last author of the study.
“This discovery challenges the established narrative of early human evolution head-on and will most likely generate a lot of debate. Whether the human origins research community will accept fossil footprints as conclusive evidence of the presence of hominins in the Miocene of Crete remains to be seen,” added Ahlberg.