What Do Ancient Footprints Have to Tell Us?

Have you taken a walk today? Between 10,000 and 19,000 years ago, a group of early humans took a walk just like you might take, and left footprints behind to prove it!

The Laetoli footprints
credit: Tim Evanson CC BY 2.0

Archaeological sites around the world, most famously the Engare Sero footprints in northern Tanzania and the Laetoli footprints nearby, hold clues to how humans behaved thousands of years ago.

It can feel as though the early people who traveled in a nomadic lifestyle from Africa to Europe, Asia, and the Americas have very little in common with us as we are today, busy with smartphones, eating diets of processed food, and more often traveling for pleasure instead of need. But fossilized footprints in the ground make us realize that while we are different from early humans, we are also similar.

How are we different and similar? This is what teams of anthropologists and archeologists are trying to figure out in Engare Sero, the site of about 400 footprints made by early humans in the shadow of a volcano. Did they walk in pairs? Were there men, women, and children? Did they all walk in the same direction or did some weave around the group? While we might never learn where they were going or where they came from, we can learn a lot about their behavior by studying their footprints.

The footprints at Engare Sero were made by at least 24 different people. Some of them were running, some were walking. They were going in two different directions. To get a sense of the people who made them, researchers invited local people to come and follow the tracks, walking in the same footsteps as their ancestors had 17,000 years ago. Imagine what that feels like!

The Laetoli footprints are even older than the ones at Engare Aero, resulting from two early humans taking a walk through volcanic ash about 3.6 million years ago and left about 70 prints. Scientists believe these prints were left by early humans called Australopithecus afarensis.

What questions do you want to know the answers to about these people? How will scientists figure out what they ate, how they survived, and where they were going? If you could ask one of those early humans a questions, what would it be?



Human Migration book Cover Nomad Press Inquire and InvestigateTo learn more about early humans and where they traveled, check out Human Migration: Investigate the Global Journey of Humankind. And try this footprint activity from the book!




Want a book about Mary Leakey, the archeologist whosecover of Fossil Huntressteam discovered the Laetoli footprints? Check out our Picture Book Biography series for kids ages 5 to 8!

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