October 11, 2016
by Brett Smith
On the shoreline of Tanzania’s Lake Natron, scientists have recognized and cataloged a particularly rare find: a large set of well-preserved human footprints left behind between 5,000 and 19,000 years ago.
Scientists found more than 400 footprints in an area bigger than a tennis court, covering the dark gray mudflat of Engare Sero. No other location in Africa has as many ancient human footprints-making it a remarkable find for researchers trying to understand the earliest days of modern humans.
A few of the tracks appear to show people jogging through the mud, running a 12-minute-mile pace or faster. Other prints indicate a person with a somewhat strange, potentially broken big toe. Even more tracks show that about a dozen people, mainly women and children, journeyed across the mudflat together, traveling the southwest for an unknown destination. The mud recorded it all-including the muddy drops that fell from their feet with each and every step.
“The first time we went out there, I remember getting out of the vehicle, and I teared up a little bit,” Cynthia Liutkus-Pierce, an Appalachian State University geologist, told National Geographic. “Human origins is a huge interest of mine: where we came from, and why we are who we are. It was definitely emotional to see our own history in this.”