The analysis of hundreds of Neanderthal footprints suggests that our ancient human ancestors were at least half a foot taller than previously thought. A total of 257 fossil footprints that were created approximately 80,000 years ago were discovered in a coastal creek bed in Le Rozel located in the northern part of France.
Since the feet of Neanderthals were quite broad, the footprints that were discovered were wider than those of modern day humans. And what’s even more interesting is that the majority of the footprints were made by adolescents and children with the youngest child being about two years of age.
“The discovery of so many Neanderthal footprints at one site is extraordinary,” said Isabelle de Groote who is from the Liverpool John Moores University. Jérémy Duveau, who is from the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle in France and who led the team that performed the analysis (which can be read here), explained that prior to this discovery only nine Neanderthal footprints from four different sites had been found.
He said, “Footprints are very interesting because they give a snapshot of a moment of life of hominins such as Neanderthals, and allow us to estimate the size and composition of the group that made them.” He continued on by stating, “This kind of information is hard to obtain from other archaeological artifacts such as skeletons and tools.”
Since no skeletal remains were discovered at the site, it’s hard to say for sure that the footprints were in fact made by Neanderthals; however, at that time they were the only known hominins that were living in Europe as homo sapiens were only present there about 35,000 years after that.
The footprints were discovered in five different layers of sediment, but researchers focused mostly on one layer that measured 92 square meters in area, and that had around 80 percent of the tracks. Since the footprints were made by about 10 to 13 different individuals – mostly children and adolescents – researchers wondered what they were actually doing when they made the tracks.
“It’s difficult to figure out why those individuals were there at that particular time: were they looking for food or playing or doing something else?” de Groote said, adding, “I would expect either more adults or more of a balance between the number of adults and young people.”
As for the height of these Neanderthals, the large footprints that were discovered at the site suggest that they were made by someone quite tall. Previous analysis of Neanderthal skeletons showed that they were normally between 150 and 160 centimeters tall (between 4 feet 9 inches and 5 feet 2 inches). However, several of the footprints discovered in Le Rozel appear to have been made by someone who was 175 centimeters tall (5 feet 7 inches). This would suggest that Neanderthals could have been much taller than previously believed.