Lodged near a lake in Cizone, Italy, is a skull encased in a nearly 50,000-year-old stone jaw, and five eight-inch-long feet they were previously thought to belong to prehistoric bears. But recently researchers from the University of Munich, along with a team of experts in Kyoto, Japan, discovered that these footprints had little to do with bears. Rather, they were human.
“Anthropologists thought the footprints belonged to a bear because the shape of the big toe on the right foot, which allows the toes to work on the toe of the foot when walking, resembles that of a bear,” University of Munich neuroscientist and author of the study, Dirk Hellenbrand, told Reuters. “However, when the animal was walking, the toe and the foot actually had nothing to do with each other. It’s actually the tip of the foot, not the toes. So if you actually put your foot into its [feet] and walk, there is nothing you can do with it.”
According to Hellenbrand, where in the foot that doesn’t belong — in fact, even when the foot-only foot does — is a crucial part of the evolutionary tree, one of the earliest stages of evolution. Since this stone jaw was found in Cizone some 5,000 years ago, the tracks have remained unexamined by scientists, leading to what Hellenbrand called a “misunderstanding” of who was the first to adapt the toes. “All species, even animals, evolved to a certain degree only by their toe tips,” Hellenbrand, who also holds a joint appointment at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, told Reuters. “And that may have been one of the reasons why when we came along and tried to have a human toe, we could not actually fit into the animal form, but could only stick our toe into a synthetic material.”
The footprints are considered the oldest-known human footprints and the oldest ones of any kind to come from East Asia. They are also linked to the evolution of human arches and forms.
Read the full story at Reuters.
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