oct 1, 2007
NAPLES (Reuters) - Want to walk in the footsteps of the early humans? Tourists in Italy can do almost just that starting this weekend, after footpaths believed to have been left up to 385,000 years ago were opened to the public.
The fossilized footprints, which Italian scientists say are among the oldest anywhere, extend along six trails at the edge of the Roccamonfina volcano in southern Italy.
There is also a handprint, made when one of the primitive humans slipped on the soft earth.
The fossilized footpaths were known locally as the "Devil's Trails" for centuries because they were thought to be supernatural. Scientists first identified them properly in 2003, and had kept the area off-limits to the public until Saturday.
Tourists cannot place their feet directly into the fossils, but can walk along the footpath from a safe distance.
Paolo Mietto of the University of Padua in Italy said scientists had also discovered another set of tracks nearby that were now being excavated. He said the tracks in total point to more than six different individuals.
"That says a lot about the potential for this site," Mietto said.
The footprints belong to primitive members of the human family about 1.5 meters tall, who walked upright with a free-standing gait" and used their hands to steady themselves