One of the ingredients for making humanity is bipedalism or the ability to walk upright on two appendages. For quite some time now scientists have been exploring Africa in hopes of finding our most ancient ancestors and to further complete the story of human evolution. However, a new discovery is questioning everything about our slow bipedal evolution and raising a huge question, did upright walking hominids come from Africa? Listen to this Question Your World radio report produced by the Science Museum of Virginia to find out.
When we think back to the earliest example of upright walking ancestors we tend to think about Lucy, the austriolpithican fossil from Ethiopia in Africa from about 3.2 million years ago. Other fossils from around that time frame have also further helped cement the notion that our earliest upright walking ancestors were from Africa and remained isolated there for millions of years before finally ya know, conquering the globe.However, A recent discovery on the island of Crete in Greece is now questioning everything about our own evolution.
A set of fossilized upright footprints have recently been studied in Crete and they remarkably date back nearly 5.7 million years ago, much longer than anything we’ve ever found in Africa. Sure going from Ethiopia to Crete seems like a tough journey considering the vast walk through the deserts and then having to cross the Mediterranean sea, but climate geologic records show us that it was totally possible. First of all the climate back then was way different. What’s now a vast desert was a lush and fertile green land so the on-foot commute would at least include places to eat and drink and rest. Secondly, 5.7 million years ago the Mediterranean Sea itself had not formed yet! There are many studies showing that this body of water formed over a course of just about two years and it dates back nearly 5.33 million years. This means our creature in Crete could have easily migrated down south to Africa and set up a life there and eventually become isolated to that region due to the recently formed Mediterranean Sea. This was back when the African and European continents were connected with lush of patches of trees and vegetation. The whole trek would be a little under 2,000 miles, which anyone who’s done the Appalachian Trail can tell you is doable in about 6 months or so.
While these are not modern human footprints, they do allow us to think about the notion that our bio-structural evolution may have origins in places far from Ethiopia. More studies are being done now but these footprints are another example of how scientists piece together the mystery of our own past, one step at a time.