Thursday, November 17, 2022

300,000-Year Human Footprints Found in Spain

Current intertidal zone surrounding El Pichilín, Castilla beach, Matalascañas.

Footprints indicate the presence of humans in Southern Spain in the Chibanian (Middle Pleistocene) 200,000 years earlier than previously thought. More than 300 footprints have been found, of which 10% are considered well-preserved.

The discovery in June 2020 of human footprints more than 106,000 years old next to El Asperillo cliff (Matalascañas, Huelva) was considered one of the most important discoveries of that year. But now it has confirmed that those footprints are in fact 200,000 years older than previously thought, with a margin of error of 17,800 years, according to the data collected from the four samples of sedimentary levels in the cliffs of El Asperillo.

Researcher and GRS Radioisotopes technician Jorge Rivera applied an optically-stimulated luminescence technique at the Center for Research, Technology and Innovation laboratories at the University of Seville (CITIUS) and at CENIEH to the Matalascañas footprints to determine that the footprints are in fact 200,000 years older than previously suspected.

The Matalascañas discovery establishes the scenario that prevailed on the coast of the Gulf of Cádiz, with human settlements in a more temperate and humid climate than in the rest of Europe. In that period the sea level would have been about 60 meters below its current level. This implies that there would have been a great coastal plain, with large flood-prone areas, in which the footprints discovered in mid-2020 would have been made.

The site’s new dating also affects the vertebrate animals found, since the hominin traces there also included footprints of large mammals such as straight-tusked elephants, gigantic bulls (aurochs) and boars. It was the fauna that inhabited what is today Doñana National Park 300,000 years ago and not 100,000 years ago, as earlier reported.

The Chibanian includes the transition in palaeoanthropology from the Lower to the Middle Palaeolithic, which includes the emergence of modern humans between 300,000 and 400,000 years ago. As of 2016, the oldest known human DNA dates to the Middle Pleistocene, around 430,000 years ago. 

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