US, WASHINGTON (ORDO NEWS) — Researchers led by evolutionary biologist Kevin Hatala of Chatham University of Pittsburgh discovered more than 400 human traces in hardened sediment near the volcano Ol Doinyo Lengai, in Tanzania.
The mud stream – lahar – was released by the volcano about 19 100–5 760 years ago, however, dating of a thin layer of rock, which partially overlays the deposits of tracks, narrows the age range for tracks from about 12,000 to 10,000 years ago.
The researchers analyzed the sizes of the prints of each foot, the distance between the prints, and the direction in which the tracks indicated. According to their findings, the most significant collection of tracks was made by a group of 17 people who moved southwest. The group consisted of 14 women, two men and one boy.
The authors of the work believe that women could procure food, while men accompanied them and guarded them. Some modern hunter-gatherers, including Hadza residents from Tanzania, are mainly female food gathering groups.
Another set of six tracks points to the northeast. These prints were left by people who did not belong to travelers in the group. Traces indicate that two women and a man walked slowly, the other man and woman walked at a fast pace, and one woman was running.
Matthew Bennett of Bournemouth University in Poole (England), who did not take part in the study, notes that Khatala and his colleagues did a good and thorough job. However, it is impossible to say exactly what those who left the tracks, only by fingerprints, were engaged.
Bennett believes that in order to convincingly argue that hunter-gatherers at that time formed groups of women to search for food, it would require many sets of tracks, not just one set of 17 tracks in the area. Even then, researchers would not know if such groups collect plant foods or prey.
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