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Thursday, November 27, 2008

Scientists have confirmed that the oldest human footprints ever found, the Devils Trails in Italy, are 345,000 years old.

A team at the University of Padova had first found the footprints in hardened volcanic ash atop Roccamonfina volcano in southern Italy in 2003.

At that time, it estimated that the markings were anywhere between 385,000 and 325,000 years old.

Now, a French team has confirmed the exact year of the footprints that belong to three early humans who were probably climbing down the side of the volcano, according to a report in the New Scientist.

In fact, the scientists, led by Stphane Scaillet, at the Laboratory of Climatic and Environmental Sciences used argon dating techniques to verify the prints age.

“Their more rigorous methods confirm that these are the oldest human footprints ever found”, said Paolo Mietto, who led the Italian team that first described the footprints to the world.

According to him, the new findings also confirm that the owners of the footprints were Homo heidelbergensis. The Italian team is now planning to excavate a second site, some three kilometres away and the members believe that the new excavations could help reveal a trail that was used by early humans.

Mietto said that based on their stride, the people responsible were walking, not running.

He said: "What’s more, the prints are in both directions ..... leading to the volcano and away from it".

Their owners were therefore not running away from volcanic eruption and the prints must have been left some time after the event. The findings have been published in the Earth and Planetary Science Letters journal.

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