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90,000 years old footprints of humans from the Ice Age in Africa are shocking the world

Experts stumble upon a remarkable discovery of footprints from people in the Ice Age hinting at their existence in North Africa.

90,000 years old footprints of humans from the Ice Age in Africa are shocking the world
Representative Cover Image Source: Pexels | brenoanp; LiveScience | Mouncef Sedrati

History is a fascinating topic, and the mystery of how humankind has reached its present state has always appealed to researchers. Unfortunately, even with continual advancements, the mystery has still not been answered. Just when experts think they have reached a particular conclusion, some new detail arrives and changes the entire conception of how ancient humans lived on Earth. The latest revelation happened on a beach in Morocco, where two trails of ancient human footprints were found, as per a report published in Nature. The newfound trail is one of the largest and best-preserved trackways in the world.

Representative Image Source: Pexels | Fabian Wiktor
Representative Image Source: Pexels | Fabian Wiktor

The discovery was made near the northern tip of North Africa in 2022. Experts went there with a different objective. They were analyzing boulders placed at a nearby pocket beach when they stumbled upon the footprints. "Between tides, I said to my team that we should go north to explore another beach," study lead author Mouncef Sedrati, an associate professor of coastal dynamics and geomorphology at the University of Southern Brittany in France, told Live Science. "We were surprised to find the first print. At first, we weren't convinced it was a footprint, but then, we found more of the trackway."

The trackway surprised the experts because nothing like this has cropped up in the surrounding area. It is the first of its kind in North Africa and the Southern Mediterranean. Considering its uniqueness, the experts decided to explore it further. They found that the two trails contained 85 human footprints. According to their calculations, these footprints must have come from at least five early modern humans. For their analysis, the experts made use of optically stimulated luminescence dating. As per the definition provided by Baylor University this kind of dating technique "provides a measure of time since sediment grains were deposited and shielded from further light or heat exposure," effectively resetting the luminescence signal. In this case, the surrounding minerals of the trail were put to the test to see when they last experienced exposure to the sun.

Image Source: Nature/M Sedrati, et al.
Image Source: Nature | M Sedrati, et al.

For the dating technique, the experts worked with fine grains of quartz present in the beach sand. They concluded that a multi-generational group of Homo sapiens must have walked on the trail some 90,000 years ago. It puts them in the Ice Age. The discovery shocked researchers as they could not find any reason for Ice Age people to be on this beach. Further exploration revealed that it must have been a colony as people of all age groups could be identified based on footprints. "We took measurements on-site to determine the length and depth of the prints," Sedrati said. "Based on the foot pressure and size of the footprints, we were able to determine the approximate age of the individuals, which included children, adolescents, and adults."

Image Source: Nature/M Sedrati, et al.
Image Source: Nature | M Sedrati, et al.

The researchers believe the footprints have remained preserved even after many years due to natural factors. These factors include its layout as well as the long reach taken by the tides. "The exceptional thing is the position of the beach on a rocky platform that is covered in clay sediments," Sedrati said. "These sediments create good conditions to preserve the tracks on the sandbar while the tides rapidly bury the beach. That's why the footprints are so well preserved here." Such conditions might not be a guarantee forever. The rocky shore platform is collapsing, which could lead to the trails disappearing forever. Therefore, the need of the hour is to invest more resources in the analysis of these footprints.

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