Eve's footprint is the popular name for a set of fossilized footprints discovered on the shore of Langebaan Lagoon, South Africa in 1995. They are thought to be those of a female human and have been dated to approximately 117,000 years ago. This makes them the oldest known footprints of an anatomically-modern human. The date also means that the individual who left these footprints in this soil, if female, is a candidate for the title of Mitochondrial Eve (the hypothetical common ancestor of modern humanity).
The three footprints were found in 1995 by geologist David Roberts from the Council for Geoscience and announced at a press conference with paleoanthropologist Lee R. Berger of the University of the Witwatersrand at Johannesburg at the National Geographic Society in Washington, D.C. The discovery was documented in the August, 1997, issue of the South African Journal of Science.
Berger and Roberts say the prints were made on a steep sand dune during a turbulent rainstorm. The location where they were found is in southwest South Africa about 60 to 70 miles (about 100 kilometres) northwest of Cape Town in the West Coast National Park. They were found in a ledge of sandstone at the edge of Langebaan Lagoon near the Atlantic coast. The preserved prints were moved to the South African Museum in Cape Town for protection and a concrete replica was mounted on the shores of Langebaan.
The maker of the footprints lived in the time of the emergence of modern Homo sapiens, or people anatomically similar to humans alive today. The footprints measure eight and a half inches (22-26 centimetres) in length and are about the size of a modern-day (U.S.) woman's size 7½ shoe (British size 6, continental European size 39½). In one foot impression the big toe, ball, arch, and heel clearly are discernible. Roberts thinks that the prints belong to an ancient female about 1.5 meters (5'3" to 5'4") tall. He said that the woman who made these footprints would resemble a contemporary woman.
Fewer than three dozen hominid fossils from the period 100,000 to 200,000 years ago have been found. Berger said, "These footprints are traces of the earliest modern people." Roberts explained further that dry sand blew over the wet footprints and filled the prints. They eventually were buried to a depth of about nine meters (thirty feet). The sand and accompanying crushed seashells hardened like cement into sedimentary rock and protected the footprints.
The team later found associated evidence of stone tool use (a core, scrapers, cutting blades, and a spear point) in the same area that is believed to date from the same period. There also was evidence of the use of ochre, leading to the intriguing possibility that the 'Eve' of 117,000 years ago may have been wearing the colorful powder.
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- Berger, Lee R. et al., In the Footsteps of Eve: The Mystery of Human Origins, National Geographic Society (2000), ISBN 0-7922772-8-7
- Wade, Nicholas, The New York Times Book of Archaeology, The Lyons Press (2001), ISBN 1-5857439-2-5