'Devils' trails' are world's oldest human footprints
It's official: the oldest human footprints ever found are 345,000 years old, give or take 6000. Known as the "devils' trails", they have been preserved in volcanic ash atop the Roccamonfina volcano in Italy.
The prints were first described to the world by Paolo Mietto and colleagues of the University of Padova in Italy in 2003 after amateur archaeologists pointed them out.
At the time, the team estimated that the prints were anywhere between 385,000 and 325,000 years old, based on when the volcano was thought to have last erupted.
Now, Stéphane Scaillet and colleagues at the Laboratory of Climatic and Environmental Sciences, France, have used argon dating techniques to verify the prints' age.
"Their more rigorous methods confirm that these are the oldest human footprints ever found," says Mietto. The new findings also confirm that the owners of the footprints were Homo heidelbergensis.
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Oldest Insect Fossil Impression Found
Scientists have uncovered what they are calling the oldest full-body impression of a flying insect, possibly an ancient mayfly.
"[The fossil] captures a moment in time over 300 million years ago when a flying insect just happened to land on a damp, muddy surface leaving almost a perfect impression of its body behind," said researcher Jake Benner, a paleontologist at Tufts University in Massachusetts.
Benner and Tufts geologist Richard Knecht discovered the insect imprint in a shale and sandstone outcropping hidden in a wooded field behind a strip mall in North Attleboro, Mass. Knecht had learned of the site while reading a master's thesis written in 1929.
With a length of about three inches (eight centimeters), the 310 million-year-old impression did not include wings. But Knecht and Benner said the insect's body structure was similar to that of primitive flying insects. In addition, "there are no walking tracks leading up to the body impression, indicating that it came from above," Benner said.