Hundreds of fossilized human footprints made between 5,760 and 19,100 years ago have been discovered in Tanzania. This represents the largest collection of fossilized footprints found in Africa to date.
The footprints are located at the Engare Sero site, just south of Lake Natron (Lake Natron: The Alkaline Tanzanian Lake That Turns Animals into Stone) in northern Tanzania.
The footsteps, according to CNN, are believed to belong to two adult males, 14 adult females and one juvenile male. The footprints form 17 different tracks in the ground.
The scientists are not very certain about the dating, placing the prints between 5,760 and 19,100 years into the past. Nonetheless, this finding is the largest collection of fossilized footprints ever found in Africa.
Author of the research and assistant professor of biology at Chatham University, Pennsylvania, Kevin Hatala, told CNN:
“The footprints were made in a volcanic mudflow, and when that wet ash dried it hardened almost like concrete. So the footprint surface itself is very resilient. But this surface was also buried by other layers of sediments, which helped to form protective layers that shielded the surface from the elements for thousands of years.”
In the report on their work, the scientists said the Engare Sero site where the footprints were found, “preserves the most abundant assemblage of hominin footprints currently known from Africa”.
The site was first discovered by members of the local Maasai community, and they shared this information with conservationists in 2008. About 56 human footprints were visible at the site in 2009 when the research team arrived thanks to natural erosion. Excavations between 2009 and 2012 uncovered the rest.
Fossilized footprints are studied by Archaelogists because they are unique and can preserve potential evidence of human behaviors and cultural activities.