Neanderthal footprints discovered on a Spanish beach were left by a child ‘jumping irregularly as though dancing’ in the sand 100,000 years ago
- The footprints were found on a Spanish beach after storms eroded a sand dune
- It was once a watering hole for Neanderthal communities to hunt and even play
- Researchers say a quarter of the found footprints belonged to smaller children
- The group were ‘close to the water’ and likely looking for seafood to eat
Footprints discovered in the sand on a Spanish beach were left by a Neanderthal child 100,000 years ago ‘jumping irregularly as though dancing,’ study shows.
The prints were uncovered due to stormy weather and high tides in June 2020, and were spotted by a pair of biologists walking on the sand.
They stumbled upon what was later revealed to be a Neanderthal watering hole, dating back 100,000 years to the late Pleistocene epoch.
The site, on Matalascanas beach in Spain, sits between Huelva and Cadiz, and is where the ancestors of modern humans would drink, hunt, search for seafood and even let their children play in the water alongside animals.
Palaeontologists from the University of Huelva say this is the earliest known example of Neanderthal footprints on the Iberian peninsular.
Footprints discovered in the sand on a Spanish beach were left by a Neanderthal child 100,000 years ago ‘jumping irregularly as though dancing,’ study shows
They stumbled upon what was later revealed to be a Neanderthal watering hole, dating back 100,000 years to the late Pleistocene epoch
This image shows a close up view of the sand where the ancient Neanderthals once stood
A FAMILY GROUP OF NEANDERTHALS BY THE SEASIDE
Researchers believe the site in Spain was a regular watering hole for Neanderthal communities.
The group was made up of a mixture of adults and young people, including at least seven small children.
Another 15 were from adolescents and nine left by adults – with the smallest two belonging to a six year old.
Most were very close to the shoreline, suggesting they were foraging for shellfish or other food sources.
There was also evidence of a small child ‘jumping’ in a way that could suggest dancing in the sand.
There were at least 87 footprints found at the site, including evidence of a Neanderthal child that was jumping and possibly even dancing through the sand.
They were discovered on at a site that has been slowly revealed due to a sand dune eroding, according to study author Eduardo Mayoral.
He says it can be harder to track early Neanderthals as there are often no bones left to date or analyse, so they rely on footprints and other ‘fossil records’.
‘The biological and ethological information of the ancient hominin groups when there are no bone remains, is provided by the study of their fossil footprints, which show us certain “frozen” moments of their existence ,’ he explained.
They reviewed the footprints through 3D models and taking detailed sedimentary analysis to characterise them and the environment they were found.
The footprints had a rounded heel, a longitudinal arch, relatively short toes, and a non-opposable big toe, the team discovered.
‘They represent the oldest upper Pleistocene record of Neandertal footprints in the world,’ added Mayoral.
Of the 87 footprints 37 were complete enough to reflect the size of the Neanderthal foot, measuring from 5 inches through to 11 inches long.
The site, on Matalascanas beach in Spain, sits between Huelva and Cadiz, and is where the ancestors of modern humans would drink, hunt, search for seafood and even let their children play in the water alongside animals
This allowed the team to calculate that the people at the ‘watering hole’ were between 3ft 4 inches and 6ft 1 inch tall, with the majority between 4ft and 5ft. ‘
‘The wide range of sizes of the footprints suggests the existence of a social group integrated by individuals of different age classes but dominated, however, by non-adult individuals,’ said Mayoral.
Of the footprints seven belonged to children, 15 to adolescents and nine were left by adults – with the smallest two belonging to a six year old.
The longest four footprints belonged to someone over 6ft, which Mayoral says is significantly higher than the expected maximum height of a Neanderthal, so may be incorrect or have been made by a smaller individual with more movement.
These shows areas where humans and animals would have once stood, the MTS area is the Matalascañas Trampled Area, the name of the beach, and HTS is the Hominin Trampled Surface, revealed after storms and where the Neanderthal once walked
The footprints had a rounded heel, a longitudinal arch, relatively short toes, and a non-opposable big toe, the team discovered
There was a microbial mat, suggesting an area of life, once underwater, as seen in this close up image showing remains of halite moulds, possibly linked to salty water
‘The wide range of sizes of the footprints suggests the existence of a social group integrated by individuals of different age classes but dominated, however, by non-adult individuals,’ said Mayoral
He said they were able to get a better understanding of the behaviour of the Neanderthal group by studying the positioning of the footprints.
‘Neandertals are hunter-gatherers so the reasons for their presence are mainly due to travel, transportation of resources or foraging strategies,’ Mayoral added.
Almost a quarter of the group was made up of children, with most of the footprints found at the very edge of what would once have been the watering hole itself.
‘This could involve a hunting strategy, stalking animals in the water, probably waterbirds and waders or small carnivores or even fishing or shellfish search of fish or molluscs,’ he said.
The findings have been published in the journal Scientific Reports.
A close relative of modern humans, Neanderthals went extinct 40,000 years ago
The Neanderthals were a close human ancestor that mysteriously died out around 40,000 years ago.
The species lived in Africa with early humans for millennia before moving across to Europe around 300,000 years ago.
They were later joined by humans, who entered Eurasia around 48,000 years ago.
The Neanderthals were a cousin species of humans but not a direct ancestor – the two species split from a common ancestor – that perished around 50,000 years ago. Pictured is a Neanderthal museum exhibit
These were the original ‘cavemen’, historically thought to be dim-witted and brutish compared to modern humans.
In recent years though, and especially over the last decade, it has become increasingly apparent we’ve been selling Neanderthals short.
A growing body of evidence points to a more sophisticated and multi-talented kind of ‘caveman’ than anyone thought possible.
It now seems likely that Neanderthals had told, buried their dead, painted and even interbred with humans.
They used body art such as pigments and beads, and they were the very first artists, with Neanderthal cave art (and symbolism) in Spain apparently predating the earliest modern human art by some 20,000 years.
They are thought to have hunted on land and done some fishing. However, they went extinct around 40,000 years ago following the success of Homo sapiens in Europe.
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