U-Th Ages Constraining the Neanderthal Footprint at Vârtop Cave, Romania

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Early human footprints are rare in the fossil record. A survey of the literature reveals very few well documented and dated cases. Here, we report the first clear Homo neanderthalensis footprint. It was found in Vârtop Cave, Romania. The individual stepped into calcareous mud that later hardened. The 22 cm long print suggests a body height of ∼1.46 m; a gap of 1.6 cm marks the separation of big and second toes. The date of the footprint is constrained by three coeval dates of ∼62 kyr on sub-samples from the basal layer of a nearby stalagmite that grew on top of the layer of calc-tufa covering the footprint. The lower constraint is a poorly constrained uranium (U)–thorium (Th) isochron date of ∼97 kyr on the calc-tufa layer in which the footprint is embedded. Thus, the Vârtop Cave individual lived in Romania sometime before 62 kyr, long before the appearance of Homo sapiens in Central and Eastern Europe, the earliest records of which date from only ∼35 kyr. To our knowledge, this is the first recognised and dated Homo neanderthalensis footprint.

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Quaternary Science Reviews, v. 24, issue 10-11, p. 1151-1157