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Footprints from Engare Sero, Tanzania

The 300 square meter site of Engare Sero, Tanzania, is the largest human fossil footprint site that has ever been discovered in Africa. It preserves over 400 human footprints in an ancient volcanic mudflow from nearby Oldoinyo L’engai, a still-active volcano in the East African Rift, which were hardened when the wet ash dried almost like concrete. The footprints are estimated to have been made between about 6,000 and 19,000 years ago and represent the distinct pathways of at least 20 different individuals. The Engare Sero research project team, led by Appalachian State University professor Cynthia Liutkus-Pierce and including Human Origins Program research scientist Briana Pobiner, has been excavating and analyzing the Engare Sero footprints since 2009. Their analysis suggests the footprints were made by a group of mostly adult females who were traveling together. When they looked at ethnographic literature, that kind of group structure is consistent with those observed during sexually divided foraging activities. You can download a full 3D recreation of the footprints site as well as a few of the individual footprints here; these files have been generated and made available online for study and download by the Smithsonian’s Digitization Program Office. 

The Engare Sero research project has been made possible through collaboration with the Tanzanian government and local Maasai communities, and with financial and material assistance from National Geographic, the Leakey Foundation, the National Science Foundation, the Evolving Earth Foundation, the Explorer’s Club, Appalachian State University, The George Washington University, the Smithsonian Institution, and the American Museum of Natural History.

 

400 human footprints in an ancient volcanic mudflow in the foreground and, still-active volcano, Oldoinyo L’engai, in the distant background
View of the Engare Sero footprints site with footprints in an ancient volcanic mudflow in the foreground and volcano, Oldoinyo L’engai, in the distant background
Image Credit: Cynthia Liutkus-Pierce
 B/W fossil footprint photo (left) and same footprint (right) with color topographic lines indicating depth
Engare Sero footprint photo (left) and same footprint (right) with color topographic lines indicating depth of the footprint into the mud surface (blues lines = deepest and yellow = highest)
Image Credit: Smithsonian Institution

A video with close-up and landscape views of the Engare Sero footprints (1:21 mins)

Footprints from Engare Sero, Tanzania
Exhibit Item
Date of discovery: 2006
Discovered by: Kongo Sakkae/local Maasai people
Species: Homo sapiens
Site: Engare Sero, Tanzania
Page last updated: May 14, 2020