Fossil footprints indicate ancient Jeju human life



Scientists have discovered scores of fossilized footprints of Paleolithic humans on the nation's southern island of Jeju, cultural authorities said yesterday. The discovery of the fossilized footprints, tentatively dated to 50,000 years ago, are the first of their kind found in Asia and the seventh set found anywhere in the world.

Along with the fossilized human footprints, thousands of animal and plant fossils were found in the area, the Cultural Properties Administration said.

The scientists and the cultural administration said fossils were found in a layer that was calculated to be 50,000 years old, the late Pleistocene Epoch. A survey team led by Kim Jeong-ryul, a professor at the Korea National University of Education, first found the fossilized human footprints last October.

The fossilized human footprints are those of Homo sapiens, immediate ancestor of modern human beings, Korean archeologists said. "To make a long story short, this is a discovery that will thrill the archeology and biology worlds," said Lee In-kyu, professor emeritus of biological sciences at Seoul National University.

About 100 footprints, ranging in size from 21 to 25 centimeters (8.2 to 9.8 inches), were discovered. Scientists explained that the heel, medial arch and ball were distinct, confirming that the footprints belong to humans and not apes.

"Three different-size footprints were discovered, indicating that they belong to persons of at least three different ages," Mr. Kim said. "This is solid evidence of Paleolithic human activity in Jeju." Other Paleolithic era relics have been found on Jeju in the past.

Yang Seong-young, professor emeritus of Kyungpook National University, said the fossilized human footprints supported the theory that the Yellow Sea did not exist 50,000 years ago. The depth of the sea is now 50 meters at the deepest point, and Mr. Yang said Jeju Island, the Korean Peninsula and mainland China were probably all linked at the time. "It is possible that the route down the peninsula was not the only way for Paleolithic men to have arrived in Jeju," he said.

Animal footprints, perhaps of elephants, were also found at the site. "If they are really the footprints of elephants, it is highly likely that the climate of the Korean Peninsula was warmer during the middle Paleolithic age than it is now," said Ku Tae-hee of Kyung Hee University.

by Cho Min-geun