Fossilized ‘devils trail’ along southern Italian volcano was made by Neanderthals who walked through liquid lava hours after violent eruption 50,000 years ago, new evidence reveals
- Experts have learned more about the footprints along the Roccamonfina volcano
- The prints could only have been made a few hours or days after the last eruption
- They also match a hominoid foot from Sima de los Huesos found in Spain
- The team thinks the group used the lava to make stone tools
Archaeologists believe the ‘Ciampate del Diavolo’, or devils trail, along the Roccamonfina volcano in southern Italy was made by Neanderthals.
Approximately 81 footprints from at least five individuals can be seen etched in the solid lava and considering the age of the rock, experts believe the group lived ‘before our species existed’.
Based on size and shape, the prints match a hominoid foot from Sima de los Huesos: the ‘pit of bones’ in Atapuerca, northern Spain, according to New Scientist.
The team also determined that the prints were made hours or days after the violent volcano erupted some 50,000 years ago.
The dense collection of hot gas and volcanic materials, or pyroclastic flow, heated to more than 570 degrees Fahrenheit at the time of the eruption and based on the distance between each step, experts concluded the lava was still soft, but cool enough for a slow walk.
Approximately 81 footprints from at least five individuals can be seen etched in the solid lava and considering the age of the rock, experts believe the group lived ‘before our species existed’
The Roccamonfina is a stratovolcano with a radius of about six miles and is located along the northern Campania coast, at a distance of about 37 miles to the northwest of Mount Somma and Mount Vesuvius.
The volcano has been extinct for more than 50,000 years, but ash from its last explosion is well-preserved in the area.
Archaeologists first discovered 67 footprints in 2001 that headed both down and uphill.
The footprints are located at the top of the Roccamonfina volcano and after further examination, another uncovered 14 prints have been spotted -bringing the total to 81.
The team also determined that the prints were made hours or days after the violent volcano erupted some 50,000 years ago
The footprints are located at the top of the Roccamonfina volcano and after further examination
The tracks are believed to have been made by a group walking at a speed of 13 feet per second, Forbes reported.
There have been many artifacts uncovered in the surrounding area that leads experts to think this mysterious group frequently visited the area – and could have harvested the rocks to make stone tools.
‘The new data also provide some hints for exploring new hypotheses about the presence of the Palaeolithic hominins in the Roccamonfina territory, although the specific identity of the trackmakers still remains unaddressed,’ the researchers wrote in the journal published in Journal of Quaternary Science.
‘ How many and which species were present at that time in Europe are, indeed, challenging questions, still the subject of open debate.
The Roccamonfina is a stratovolcano with a radius of about six miles and is located along the northern Campania coast, at a distance of about 37 miles to the northwest of Mount Somma and Mount Vesuvius
WHO WERE THE NEANDERTHALS?
The Neanderthals were a close human ancestor that mysteriously died out around 50,000 years ago.
The species lived in Africa with early humans for hundreds of millennia before moving across to Europe around 500,000 years ago.
They were later joined by humans taking the same journey some time in the past 100,000 years.
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 buried their dead with the concept of an afterlife in mind.
Additionally, their diets and behaviour were surprisingly flexible.
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.