A footprint of the last Neanderthal man?

A 29, 000 year old footprint in Gibraltar could have come from a Neanderthal man

Does this 29, 000-year-old footprint come from a Neanderthal man? © University of Seville
Read out

Last track: On the Gibraltar peninsula paleontologists have discovered a fossil footprint that could have come from a Neanderthal man. If confirmed, it would be only the second trace of this human species worldwide. Unusually, however, is also the small age of exposed by a dune demolition traces: they are only 29, 000 years old and could therefore come from the last Neanderthal man.

As Homo sapiens spread throughout Europe, the era of Neanderthals ended. After being the dominant species in Eurasia for more than 250, 000 years, the population of our glacial cousin was rapidly dwindling. What was the reason, is still controversial - possible would be a climate change, introduced diseases or a less flexible behavior of the Neanderthal man. Also controversial is the time when the last Neanderthals of Europe were extinct - a population in the Iberian Peninsula.

Traces in the glacial dune sand

Now Fernando Muniz of the University of Seville and his team may have discovered the most recent legacy left by Neanderthals - a footprint. The fossil footprints were discovered, as more and more sandstone pieces of a primeval dune landscape above the beach of Catalan Bay broke off in recent years. The fractures exposed numerous fossil traces from the Ice Age.

Visual analysis of the footprint. © University of Seville

Among the impressions were traces of red deer, lynx, aurochs, leopards and a glacial elephant species, as the researchers report. Dates have shown that these animals must have roamed the coastal village around 29, 000 years ago at the peak of the last ice age. "These findings represent the first fossil animal tracks in the olian sediments of Gibraltar, " say Muniz and his colleagues.

Footprint of a young Neanderthal man

The crucial find, however, is the weak footprint of a human in the midst of all these animal tracks. As the researchers found, this imprint must have been left by a young, between 1.06 and 1.26 tall person. The exciting thing about it: From anatomical analyzes of the impression, the pal ontologists conclude that this footprint could have come from a Neanderthal man. display

If that were confirmed, it would be spectacular in two respects. Until now, Neanderthal footprints have only been known from a single place in the world: the Vartop cave in Romania. The impression in the Ice Age Thuns of Gibraltar would be the second find of its kind worldwide. The second peculiarity is the age of the footprint: If he is really only 29, 000 years old, then he would have the latest legacy of a Neanderthal man at all.

Were there any Neanderthals at the time?

However: Especially the dates of Neanderthal relics on the Iberian peninsula are highly controversial. As early as 2013, scientists questioned the young age of less than 35, 000 years for these findings. In post-analysis, they came instead to nearly 10, 000 years older values. Whether there were still Neanderthals on Gibraltar 29, 000 years ago is still unexplained. If this is not the case, then probably the most likely producer of this footprint would be Homo sapiens. (Quaternary Science Reviews, 20198: doi: 10.1016 / j.quascirev.2019.01.013)

Source: University of Seville

- Nadja Podbregar