Earth and Planetary Science Letters doi:10.1016/j.epsl.2008.08.026
Oldest human footprints dated by Ar/Ar
Stéphane Scaillet et al.
Fossilized human trackways are extremely rare in the geologic record. These bear indirect but invaluable testimony of human/hominid locomotion in open air settings and can provide critical information on biomechanical changes relating to bipedalism evolution throughout the primitive human lineage. Among these, the “Devil's footsteps” represent one of the best preserved human footprints suite recovered so far in a Pleistocene volcanic ash of the Roccamonfina volcano (southern Italy). Until recently, the age of these footprints remained speculative and indirectly correlated with a loosely dated caldera-forming eruption that produced the Brown Leucitic Tuff. Despite extensive hydrothermal alteration of the pyroclastic deposit and variable contamination with excess 40Ar, detailed and selective 40Ar/39Ar laser probe analysis of single leucite crystals recovered from the ash deposit shows that the pyroclastic layer and the footprints are 345 ± 6 kyr old (1σ), confirming for the first time that these are the oldest human trackways ever dated, and that they were presumably left by the modern human predecessor, Homo heidelbergensis, close to Climatic Termination IV.