The day to day life of our ancestors can be difficult to reconstruct. A single layer at an archaeological site can represent hundreds of thousands of years of activity. However, there are a few chances we get to see how our ancestors lived. Like the recent discovery of footprints along a lake shore; revealing Homo erectus men went hunting along the lake.
This might seem like a fairly inane discovery. And certainly, these footprints aren’t the most significant tracks ever found. That honour would still go to the Laetoli tracks, which revealed early hominins could still walk like us; despite their more ape-like body. However, they still provide a fascinating glimpse into the day-to-day life of Homo erectus.
And it turns out it wasn’t that much different to ours.
In northwestern Kenya is the town of Ilret. Nearby are over 400 fossil tracks spanning hundreds of square metres, and dated to more than 1.5 million years ago; which would put them in the age range of Homo erectus. Over the past 9 years palaeoanthropologists have been studying the region; revealing some fascinating discoveries. For example, the presence of hippos and waterbirds reveal this area was likely a river delta. Now, it’s a rather arid riverbank.
But the most interesting stuff comes from a series of nearly 100 hominin footprints in the assemblage; revealing a group of Homo erectus travelling along the riverbank. Now, that number might sound like a lot of footprints. Perhaps an entire group migrating through the region. However, it turns out that these footprints accumulated over tens of thousands of years. You read that right. Homo erectus was making the same journey. That’s nearly five times older than the pyramids; a period of time that simply boggles the mind. It would be the equivalent of us still heading to French caves to make cave art.
When you start to break it down into roughly contemporary tracks a different pattern emerges. This wasn’t a massive group of Homo erectus migrating through the region. Rather, it seems to have been a smaller group travelling along the banks of this river. Probably men, based on the size of the footprints. Further, most of the footprints are travelling in the same direction; suggesting this was a routine journey this group made.
Based on all this the discoverers think we’re looking at a band of hunters. Tracking along the banks of a river, following their prey. And the other footprints found in the region suggested there were ample pickings to be had. So ample they kept revisiting this location, making this same journey along the riverbanks in search of their next kill for thousands of years. Was it the same group each time? How long did they wait before returning to this lake? These are questions the footprints can’t tell us.
But still, it’s a fascinating glimpse into our ancestors lives.
Footprints reveal bands of Homo erectus trecked along the banks of a lake. They were likely hunting, and kept returning to the site for thousands of years.
Roach, N.T., Hatala, K.G., Ostrofsky, K.R., Villmoare, B., Reeves, J.S., Du, A., Braun, D.R., Harris, J.W., Behrensmeyer, A.K. and Richmond, B.G., 2016. Pleistocene footprints show intensive use of lake margin habitats by Homo erectus groups. Scientific reports, 6.