December 21, 2005

Human Ice Age prints found in dry Australian lake

By Michael Perry

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Hundreds of human footprints dating back
20,000 years to the Ice Age have been discovered in a dry lake
bed in Australia, scientists said on Thursday.

University of Melbourne archaeologist Matthew Cupper told
Australian radio they were the earliest footprint fossils found
in the country.

"It's really quite a remarkable find. It's a little
snapshot in time. The possibilities are endless in terms of
getting a window into past aboriginal society."

They were left by adults, teenagers and children walking or
and running across moist clay flats near Willandra Lakes,
southwest of Sydney, the university archaeologists who made the
discovery said.

The prints, ranging in size from 13 cm to 30 cm (5.1 to
11.8 inches), provide an insight into the anatomy and behavior
of the people who left them, they said in an on-line report in
the Journal of Human Evolution (

"The size of the prints and the pace lengths in most
trackways indicate tall individuals who were able to achieve
high running speeds."

Some of the people appeared to be hunting, with emu and
kangaroo footprints also in the area and what appeared to be
spear holes in the ground, they said.

One man, estimated at two meters (six feet) tall, appeared
to be sprinting at about 20 km/h (12 mph).

Australia's oldest human remains are 40,000 years old and
were found in Lake Mungo in Mungo National Park, where the
footprints were discovered.

The on-line report said 457 footprints, "the largest
collection of Pleistocene human footprints in the world," had
been discovered since the first were found in 2003.

The Pleistocene period is from around 1.8 million to 10,000
years ago and includes the most recent Ice Age. The footprints
were dated at between 19,000 and 23,000 years old.

"It's quite remarkable," Cupper said. "We haven't found any
footprints from the Pleistocene in Australia before."

A young woman named Mary Pappin Junior from the Mutthi
Mutthi aboriginal people found the first footprints in August
2003 while exploring the area with a team member from Bond
University in Queensland state, Cupper said.

They were made in silty clay containing calcium carbonate
that hardened like concrete as it dried. The imprints were
preserved when they were covered by a layer of clay and then
sand from shifting dunes.

The scientists dated the footprints through a technique
known as optically stimulated luminescence of the sand.