People walked along the beaches of Iberia almost 300 thousand years ago

(ORDO NEWS) — Footprints found in Spain are 200,000 years older than anthropologists previously thought.

Two years ago, on the beach of Matalascañas in the Doñana National Park (southwest Spain), footprints of ancient people were discovered – and a lot at once.

Then the researchers identified 87 prints, which made it possible to identify 36 individuals – men, women and children.

The find was dated according to a previous study of deposits from the surrounding rock masses, thus its age was determined at 106 ± 19 thousand years.

These are Neanderthals, anthropologists concluded. And for two years no one doubted him. However, now the situation has changed.

People walked along the beaches of Iberia almost 300 thousand years ago 2
Archaeological site of Matalascañas

Scientists from the University of Huelva and the University of Seville (both in Spain) used optically stimulated luminescence to analyze footprints from Matalascañas Beach.

This method is used to date fossils in geological deposits using ionized radiation. This is how scientists determine when a particular layer of rock was last exposed to sunlight.

After collecting samples from various levels, the age of the fossil remains was established, which indicates the middle Pleistocene: then the transition from warming (300-360 thousand years ago) to a major glaciation (240-300 thousand years ago) was not easy in the climatic sense.

At that time, the sea level was about 60 meters lower than today.

This means that the coast of the sea was more than 20 kilometers from today, and therefore there was a large coastal plain with extensive flood-prone areas.

It was these conditions that ensured first footprints, and then – when the sea flooded the plain – their safety.

The new dating is 295,800 years, with an error of 17,800 years. Moreover, not only the original 87 traces were investigated: over the past time, archaeologists have discovered more than 300 such prints, ten percent of which are considered well-preserved.

The question arises: who walked along the Matalascañas beach?

People walked along the beaches of Iberia almost 300 thousand years ago 3
Layers with footprints of ancient people

Previously, it was about the late Pleistocene, when the presence of Neanderthals in the Iberian Peninsula was expected within the established chronology of this species. Therefore, the fact that these relatives of Homo sapiens left traces was a normal conclusion.

The optically stimulated luminescence method is considered very accurate, and the result obtained with its help transfers traces of hominins from the upper to the middle Pleistocene, which makes them unique in Europe. Therefore, now there is no certainty that these traces belong to Neanderthals.

The main hypothesis of scientists is that the prints were left by individuals of the Neanderthal genus, with which Homo heidelbergensis and Homo neanderthalensis are associated.

But, according to the authors of the work, we can talk more about the common ancestors of these two species.

It is for this reason that footprints from Matalascañas are of great value: we do not have a very good idea of ​​the life of a Heidelberg man in Europe.

Until now, footprints from this period have only been found in Italy: they have been dated between 345 and 380 thousand years ago and correlated with Homo heidelbergensis.

They are the only ones older than the finds in Huelva. They are followed by the dating of traces at the sites of Biash-Vaast (France) and Theopetra (Greece) – they are about 130-236 thousand years old, and they are already attributed to Neanderthals.

Today, the question of Heidelbergians and Neanderthals is still hotly debated by anthropologists.

Some believe that the Heidelbergians are just early Neanderthals, others insist that the differences between them are large enough, so we can talk about different species.

The accumulation of new dates and data can bring the scientific world closer to the final solution of this issue.

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