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Oldest European human footprints in Romanian cave

Scientists confirm oldest European human footprints in Romanian cave

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A new study published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology has revealed that ancient human footprints found in a Romanian cave and initially believed to be 10,000 to 15,000 years old, are actually more than 35,000 years old.

In 1965, Ciur-Izbuc Cave in the Carpathian Mountains of Romania was found to contain about 400 ancient human footprints. At that time, researchers believed the footprints were made by a man, woman and child who used the cave approximately 10 – 15k years ago. They were initially dated based on their association with cave bear (Ursus spelaeus) footprints and bones, and the belief that cave bears became extinct near the end of the last Ice Age.

Footprints in Ciur-Izbuc Cave

Footprints in Ciur-Izbuc Cave were discovered in the 1960s. Photo credit: Dr. David Webb

Since their initial discovery, most of the footprints and archaeological traces of the cave bear have unfortunately disappeared following an influx of cavers and tourists eager to view the ancient footprints.  In an effort to conserve the footprints and information about them and to reanalyze them with modern techniques before they disappear for good, Ciur-Izbuc Cave was restudied in summer of 2012.

Dr. David Webb, an anthropologist at Kutztown University, and the other study authors, now believe that the footprints are not 10,000 to 15,000 years old as previously thought, but could be up to 36,500 years old.

The research team studied 25 percent of the footprints originally discovered, as this is all that currently remains. They discovered that there were cave bear bones buried just beneath some of the footprints. Radiocarbon testing on the bear bones revealed that the footprints are tens of thousands of years older than the initial estimate.

Bear scratches on the cave walls

Bear scratches on the cave walls. Image source.

The results of the study reveal that the Romanian footprints are the oldest human footprints to be published in a peer-reviewed journal. However, a number of researchers believe they have found footprints that are much older. For instance, in 2011 scientists said human tracks at Tanzania’s Engare Sero site were 120,000 years old. Those findings have not been published yet in a peer-reviewed journal, and David Webb of Kutztown University in Pennsylvania believes this suggests a problem with footprint authenticity.

Earlier this year, there was another significant footprint discovery – in a chance encounter, low sea tides caused by heavy storms washing away beach sand, exposed dozens of footprints on a beach in Norfolk, England, which were dated back an incredible 800,000 years. Described as 'the most important discovery on British shores', the footprints are believed to have been made by a human ancestor known as Homo antecessor.

An archaeologist examining the exposed footprints in Happisburgh

An archaeologist examining the exposed footprints in Happisburgh, Norfolk, England. Photo credit: Martin Bates.

Scientists believe the footprints in the Romanian cave are evidence of the earliest known humans in Europe, previously only revealed through the discovery of animal bones and stone tools.

Featured image: One of the footprints from Ciur-Izbuc Cave in Romania

By April Holloway



angieblackmon's picture

i agree with some earlier comments that especially the first pic, if not for the outline, i would have never seen it...its much easier to see in the last picture where there's tons of prints.

love, light and blessings


I think the point here is "Peer Review" a horrible system that slows discovery. The good news is that the dates have been pushed back again and that it was met with peer approval. As bad as the system is, it's good to see that they are making a little progress.  

I personally would be delighted to know that the dating of the footprint is accurate as it would be another brick in the wall of my beliefs, theories and thoughts.

If one were to mentally rub out the red pen mark all that remains which is truly distinguishable is the toe tips which are the only pointers to the footprints being real, however reasonably solid pointers.

aprilholloway's picture

The footprints at Happisburgh were preserved under layers of silt for millennia. In a rare event, huge storms washed away the silt exposing the prints. Scientists rushed to photograph and record the finding because within two weeks of being exposed to the elements, they were too damaged to study. 

Saris, I've noticed that all your comments are negative. You seem to throw around comments like 'hoax' and 'fake' without actually knowing anything about the subject. It seems to me like you are trolling. 

Footprints near a beach would be easily eroded, those cannot be real prints.


aprilholloway's picture


April Holloway is a Co-Owner, Editor and Writer of Ancient Origins. For privacy reasons, she has previously written on Ancient Origins under the pen name April Holloway, but is now choosing to use her real name, Joanna Gillan.

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