Ancient human footprints discovered in Morocco are oldest in region

Tracks made 90,000 years ago expected to reveal more about Homo sapiens in North Africa and Mediterranean

The lengths of the footprints ranged from 12.7cm to 30cm, according to the scientist who discovered them. Scientific Reports
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Scientists have discovered 85 human footprints in the north-west of Morocco dating back about 90,000 years, shedding light on the lives of our ancient ancestors.

They are the oldest known footprints left by modern man, Homo sapiens, in North Africa and the southern Mediterranean region, archaeologists said.

A team comprising Moroccan, German, Spanish and French academics and scientists found the footprints in July 2022 as they were examining rocks along the coast near the city of Larache.

The findings were reported in the journal Scientific Reports this week.

“We report the discovery of 85 human footprints on a Late Pleistocene [Ice Age] now indurated beach surface of about 2,800 square metres at Larache,” the researchers, led by Moroccan archaeologist Moncef Essedrati, said in the report.

The footprint sizes indicated there were adults, children and adolescents.

“There are slightly more footprints attributed to children (31) than to adolescents (26) or adults (24). However, the model used to estimate age classes has some uncertainties based on the average foot length for each age,” the report said.

The scientists also addressed what they said was a "key question when studying footprints" – what the individuals who left them were doing at the site.

"Since no occupation structures were found, this site may correspond to a passage and/or foraging site. While Pleistocene Homo sapiens were hunter-gatherers, individuals likely left the Larache footprints while probably searching for resources. Numerous archaeological discoveries, particularly in Morocco and notably in the Rabat-Temara region, have shown the importance of coastal areas for access to resources, whether raw materials, prey or even plants," they said.

The scientists said the discovery underscored the importance of North Africa, specifically Morocco, in providing evidence of the first appearance of Homo sapiens and the development of the human species.

“No other site in North Africa has yielded footprints dating from the Pleistocene. They are, therefore, the oldest human footprints in this region and among the oldest footprints attributed to Homo sapiens worldwide,” they said.

There have been only two other findings of older human footprints, according to the report. One, on South Africa’s coastline, dates back 150,000 years, and the other, in the Alathar ancient lake in Saudi Arabia, dates back to almost 120,000 years ago.

Updated: January 26, 2024, 11:18 AM