Stone Age families crawled on hand and foot through dark caves

Stone Age families crawled on hand and foot through dark caves
May 15 (Agencies) | Publish Date: 5/15/2019 11:36:16 AM IST

 A series of tracks created roughly 14,000 years ago has revealed stunning new insight into the ways ancient humans explored dark, potentially treacherous cave systems during the Stone Age.

Researchers say at least 180 hand and footprints line the clay-rich floor of Italy’s cave of Bàsura in the famous Toirano caves, indicating ancient humans crawled barelegged through low tunnels as they searched for food and even explored for fun. 

The group that left behind these tracks thousands of years ago included a total of five individuals, from adults to children as young as 3 years old, who navigated the dark pathways using wooden sticks as torches.

According to the team behind the new study, this is the first time crawling behavior during this period has been identified.

‘In our study, we wanted to see how ancient humans explored this fascinating cave system,’ said first author Marco Romano, Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa.

‘Specifically, we set out to discover how many people entered the cave, whether they explored as individuals or as a group, their age, gender, and what kind of route they took once inside the cave.’

The team studied 180 tracks using software analysis and 3D modelling, along with various dating methods. ‘Together, these approaches allowed us to construct a narrative of how the humans entered and exited the cave, and their activities once they were inside,’ Romano said.

The structure of the prints suggests there were five individuals navigating the cave: two adults, an adolescent roughly 11 years old, and two children, aged 3 and 6.

They lit their way using burning wooden sticks. According to the researchers, these excursions weren’t just done in the name of survival; the Stone Age groups may have held social activities within the cave walls. This is made apparent by differences in the style of the handprints, some of which appear more ‘intentional’ than others.

‘Hunter-gatherers may therefore have been driven by fun activities during exploration, as well as simply the need to find food,’ Romano said. ‘Together, our results show how a varied approach to studying our ancestors’ tracks can provide detailed insights on their behavior,’ said senior author Marco Avanzini, head of the geology department at MUSE—Trento Museum of Science, Italy. 

(Cheyenne Macdonald for

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