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Fossilized human footprints found in Africa could reveal ancient traditions

By | Rachel Brooks

Staff | Telegraph Local 

See | The New African Living Standard 

Above, While In Africa broadcast of a visit to the Hadzabe people, who occupy the area where the footprints were found.

Is it science or art when the footsteps of ancient people imprint volcanic ash? In Engare Sero, Tanzania, 400 Late Pleistocene human footprints have been discovered. These were the steps of the ancient people that lived and worked in Tanzania thousands of years ago. This was stated by Scientific Reports on May 14. 

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The Scientific Reports post states that the 400 footprints belonged to 14 women, two men, and one boy. They were found in the Engare Sero locale just south of what is now called Lake Natron. The first steps of humanity are recorded here, as this region is reportedly the most abundant assemblage of hominin footprint fossils currently known to Africa. They were also found approximately 100km from the archaeological site in Laetoli. Laetoli is the site that preserved the “earliest confidently attributed” hominin footprint fossils, states The Scientific Reports.  

The Engare Sero site was initially discovered by a group of Maasai people who live nearby. The Lake Natron region is near the border of Kenya. Maasai people are the famous “lion hunter” tribal group who originated as a distinct long-ago near Lake Turkana, Kenya, see Siyabona Africa for more. 

The Scientific Reports states that the Engare Sero excavation site preserves at least 408 human footprints. They were made primarily by barefoot people. This gives us some insights into the lives of the people of the Engare Sero people of thousands of years ago. They likely did not commonly wear shoes or sandals. Unique toe prints helped scientists to distinguish that footprints were human. 

The Conversation also published a story by scientists on the subject. The scientists compared the path these ancient people took to walking along the beach. If you were to walk in wet sand, you would leave footprints behind that would only be present for a few minutes before the sea would wash them away. Yet, if you were to walk in wet volcanic ash, as these women, men, and the one boy did once upon a time, your footprint would be cast in a sort of natural concrete. We owe the imprint of these people’s feet_whom The Conversation believes to have been more like 20 people than 17, to the Oldoinyo Lengai volcano. 

The scientists who found these prints believed the people who made them lived there at the foot of the fiery mountain somewhere between 6,000 and 19,000 years ago.

The scientists also compared the way the group of people traveled together, based on their prints, to how the modern foraging tribe of the Hadza live in Tanzania today. Photographed by National Geographic, Hadza people walk in single file lines and in mixed gender and mixed aged groups. Hadza are among the last of the peoples of Africa to still live in the ancient hunter-gatherer way. The Hadza have approximately 1,300 members today. Natively, they hail from the Eyasi Valley. This area is in the same general regional radius as Lake Natron. The general 4,000 square kilometer region is known locally as Hadzaland, citing Atlas Obscura. 

Because they are in the same region of Tanzania, and lived much the same from estimations, one could infer that the people who left the footprints on the shores of Lake Natron are among the immediate to indirect ancestors of the Hadza. If this is the case, we can guess some things about the people who left the footprints based on who their descendants likely are today. Hadza natively speak Hadzane, a distinctive language that employs click sounds much like Xhosa in South Africa. Hadza folk traditions state that their people have lived along the Serengeti since the beginning of their history.

The Hadza tell the story of their ancestors from the food they ate, further citing Atlas Obscura. The Hadza called their first ancestors the Akakaanebe, raw meat eaters, then the second group the Tlaatlaanebe, who fire-roasted meat, then the Hamakwabe, who invented bows and arrows. The people who left the footprints are likely from one of these groups, or a similar hierarchy group among the cousin tribes. 

Hadza are a similar tribe to the Sandawe people. The people who lived along Lake Natron 6,000 years ago were likely matches as ancestors to all the closely-similar people of this region. Genetic biologists have compared the genetic ancestry of Hadza and Sandawe people, see Oxford Academic for more. The study found that the Hadza and Sandawe people of this area share some common ancestry with Khoisan and Omotic peoples. That means that the people who currently occupy this region had ancestors that likely immigrated to the general region of the Serengetti from the Nile River regions and Ethiopia. 

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Perhaps the people whose prints have been found all these centuries later were immigrants who once lived along the Nile? We may never know. They are not here to tell their story now. Only the artwork of footprints cast in ashes remain. 

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