One of the ingredients of 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 to further 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?
When we think back to the earliest example of upright walking ancestors, we tend to think about Lucy, the Australopithican 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 date back, remarkably, to nearly 5.7 million years ago, much longer ago 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 geologic climate 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, drink and rest. Secondly, 5.7 million years ago the Mediterranean Sea itself had not formed! There are many studies showing that this body of water formed over the course of just about two years and dates back 5.33 million years.
This means our creature in Crete could have easily migrated down south to Africa and set up a life there, eventually becoming isolated in that region due to the newly 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 hiked 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.