Researchers discovered 800,000-year-old footprints in the Danakil desert in southeast Eritrea. These size 12 footprints show toe details, longitudinal arch and an abducted toe, which were created by a group of Homo erectus, the ancestors of modern humans.

Homo erectus provides vital information to the history of human evolution. The discovery could reveal each of the individual’s body mass as well as the species’ social behavior, stature, gait and movement until our species, Homo sapiens, began appearing 200,000 years ago.

The findings were made by a group from the National Museum of Eritrea and Rome’s La Sapienza University. According to Sapienza University’s anthropologist Alfredo Coppa, the footprints are preserved on hardened sandy sediment.


Skull of Homo erectus. Credit: Royroydeb/Wikimedia

“Homo erectus was the only hominid species that inhabited the area at that time,” Coppa told Discovery News. “Indeed, these could be the first clearly recognizable H. erectus’ footprints.”

The Homo erectus was a species of large-brained hominins that looked close to us. They appeared 1.8 million years ago but became extinct 800,000 to 700, 000 years ago.

They lived in the Middle East, eastern Africa and Asia, where they might have probably lived 50,000 years ago. However, studying them remains limited due to the lack of fossilized human prints.

Finding footprints is extremely rare, the researchers point out. Until now, no one has found a footprint that date back 800,000 years ago during the change from early and mid-Pleistocene.

So far, only three footprint areas have been determined in Africa. One is in Laetoli, Tanzania where footprints by Australopithecus afarensis, from 3.7 million years ago, present the first document of hominin bipedalism.

Australopithecus afarensis lived between 3.9 million and 2.9 million years ago. Lucy is the most famous example to come from this group of hominins.

The other two are in Ileret and Koobi Fora in Kenya. The footprints are from various hominins and believed to date back 1.5 million to 1.4 million years ago.

The findings prove more fossils are still waiting to be found. Coppa asserts more studies on the footprints and excavations are still needed.