Geologists have dated the 400+ ancient human footprints that were found nine miles away from the sacred Ol Doinyo Lengai volcano site, locally known as the “Mountain of God”, on the southern shore of Tanzania’s Lake Natron.
It was believe that the footprints were preserved by ash that fell from the neighboring volcano, the footprints are actually somewhere between 5,000 and 19,000 years old. The findings are based on extensive research that also confirmed that the footprints were preserved by the flow of debris and ash from the volcano.
“There is one area where there are so many prints, we’ve nicknamed it the “dance hall,” because I’ve never seen so many prints in one place. It’s completely nuts,” City University of New York paleoanthropologist William Harcourt-Smith told National Geographic.
According to Cynthia Liutkus-Pierce, a geologist from Appalachian State University and leader of the team that discovered the footprints, the Engare Sero footprint site adds to the unique record of fossil footprint found in sites around the world. She believes the site is the only one in Africa that has such a huge number of Homo sapien footprints.
“This means that the Engare Sero prints are latest Pleistocene in age,” Liutkus-Pierce said. “They record traces of our ancestors, their activity, and behavior, during the latest Pleistocene along the margin of Lake Natron in Tanzania”.
Researchers also identified footprints of a group of more than 12 people travelling together and evidence that some of the prints were made by people jogging.
However, Liutkus-Pierce and her team are not the first people to discover the footprints as the site was discovered by a villager more than ten years ago.
Scientific research at the site started in 2008 after American conservationists toured the area.
Liutkus-Pierce’s team is now considering the long-term preservation of the site, teaming up with the Smithsonian to create 3D scans of the entire area.
The Engare Sero tracks, excavated with the support of the National Geographic Society’s Committee for Research and Exploration, add to an incredibly exclusive catalog of human footprints that have stood the test of time. Australia’s Willandra Lakes site, for instance, has 700 fossil footprints made about 20,000 years ago. And two sites on the South African coast have Homo sapiens tracks dated as far back as 120,000 years ago, notes the National Geographic.