Experts have recently discovered 3.6 million-year-old footprints in Africa. These ancient footprints were left behind by a group of five individuals who once walked across wet volcanic ash.
Scientists say that the footprints suggest that the members of Australopithecus afarensis –who most likely walked the path— may have behaved like in a gorilla-like social arrangement where one dominate male mated with several females. This however, remains still a theory based solely on footprints.
An international group of researchers, led by Sapienza University in Rome discovered the set of thirteen footprints in Laetoli Tanzania.
Experts theorize that the footprints belonged to five members of Australopithecus afarensis, a species best known for the fossil skeleton, nicknamed ‘Lucy.’
Scientists believe that that the traces were left behind by a man who was accompanied –3.6 million years ago— by four women who walked around thirty meters over volcanic ash that in time turned into rock.
Professor Giorgio Manzi, lead author of the study, said: ‘This novel evidence, taken as a whole with the previous findings, portrays several early hominins moving as a group through the landscape following a volcanic eruption and subsequent rainfall. But there is more. The footprints of one of the new individuals are astonishingly larger than anyone else’s in the group, suggesting that he was a large male member of the species.
‘In fact, the 165cm stature indicated by his footprints makes him the largest Australopithecus specimen identified to date,’ added Professor Manzi.
This study provides further insight into the sex life of early humans. Experts suggest that this specific finding contradicts previous studies which proposed that Australopithecus afarensis males only had one sexual partner.
Furthermore, the newly found set of footprints are located only 150 meters away from another set of intricate imprints that made headlines in the past as being the clearest and earliest evidence of upright walking by humans millions of years ago.
Researchers based in Italy and Africa believe that the two set’s of footprints may have belonged together.
“A tentative conclusion is that the group consisted of one male, two or three females, and one or two juveniles, which leads us to believe that the male – and therefore other males in the species – had more than one female mate,” said Dr Marco Cherin, director of the school of paleoanthropology at the University of Perugia.
The new discovery has been revealed in the journal, eLife.