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      A multidisciplinary approach to a unique palaeolithic human ichnological record from Italy (Bàsura Cave)

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          Based on the integration of laser scans, sedimentology, geochemistry, archeobotany, geometric morphometrics and photogrammetry, here we present evidence testifying that a Palaeolithic group of people explored a deep cave in northern Italy about 14 ky cal. BP. Ichnological data enable us to shed light on individual and group level behavior, social relationship, and mode of exploration of the uneven terrain. Five individuals, two adults, an adolescent and two children, entered the cave barefoot and illuminated the way with a bunch of wooden sticks. Traces of crawling locomotion are documented for the first time in the global human ichnological record. Anatomical details recognizable in the crawling traces show that no clothing was present between limbs and the trampled sediments. Our study demonstrates that very young children (the youngest about 3 years old) were active members of the Upper Palaeolithic populations, even in apparently dangerous and social activities.

          eLife digest

          The fossil traces of Stone Age humans and other animals in the Grotta della Bàsura cave system in Italy have been studied since the 1950s. Italian archaeologist Virginia Chiappella published the first studies; she documented bones from an extinct cave bear, human and animal footprints, charcoal from torches, finger marks, and lumps of clay stuck on the walls. Since then, many more archeologists and anthropologists have studied the cave and its fossils. Yet there are still lessons to be learned from this prehistoric site.

          Now, Romano et al. have combined a number of different approaches and used some of the latest technology and cutting-edge software to analyze 180 footprints and other tracks found in the cave. These trace fossils date to about 14,000 years ago, and the analysis revealed that they were left by a group of Stone Age humans who descended at least 400 meters into the cave. The group consisted of two adults, an adolescent and two children of about three and six years old. At one point they had to crawl through a low tunnel – something that has not previously been documented in the fossil record. The group were all barefoot, had no clothing on their arms and legs and used wooden torches to light the way.

          Together, these findings suggest that young children were active group members during the late Stone Age, even when carrying out apparently dangerous activities. Romano et al. now hope that their multidisciplinary approach may help other scientists looking to understand how humans behaved elsewhere in the world at various points in history.

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          Most cited references 54

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          A Comparison and Evaluation of Multi-View Stereo Reconstruction Algorithms

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            Anthropometric reference data for children and adults: United States, 2007-2010.

            Objective-This report presents national anthropometric reference data for all ages of the U.S. population in 2007-2010, adding to results published previously from the years 1960-2006. Methods-Data are from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), a complex, stratified, and multistage probability sample of the civilian noninstitutionalized U.S. population. Anthropometry measurements were obtained from 20,015 survey participants. The anthropometric measures included weight, height, recumbent length, circumferences, limb lengths, and skinfold thickness measurements. Results-The tables in this report include weighted population means, standard errors of the means, and selected percentiles of body measurement values. Because measurements varied by sex and age (as well as race and ethnicity in adults), results are reported by these subgroups. Conclusions-These latest NHANES data add to the knowledge about trends in child growth and development and trends in the distribution of body measurements, such as weight and height, in the U.S. population.
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              Hominin stature, body mass, and walking speed estimates based on 1.5 million-year-old fossil footprints at Ileret, Kenya.

              The early Pleistocene marks a period of major transition in hominin body form, including increases in body mass and stature relative to earlier hominins. However, because complete postcranial fossils with reliable taxonomic attributions are rare, efforts to estimate hominin mass and stature are complicated by the frequent albeit necessary use of isolated, and often fragmentary, skeletal elements. The recent discovery of 1.52 million year old hominin footprints from multiple horizons in Ileret, Kenya, provides new data on the complete foot size of early Pleistocene hominins as well as stride lengths and other characteristics of their gaits. This study reports the results of controlled experiments with habitually unshod Daasanach adults from Ileret to examine the relationships between stride length and speed, and also those between footprint size, body mass, and stature. Based on significant relationships among these variables, we estimate travel speeds ranging between 0.45 m/s and 2.2 m/s from the fossil hominin footprint trails at Ileret. The fossil footprints of seven individuals show evidence of heavy (mean = 50.0 kg; range: 41.5-60.3 kg) and tall individuals (mean = 169.5 cm; range: 152.6-185.8 cm), suggesting that these prints were most likely made by Homo erectus and/or male Paranthropus boisei. The large sizes of these footprints provide strong evidence that hominin body size increased during the early Pleistocene. Copyright © 2013 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

                Author and article information

                Role: Senior Editor
                Role: Reviewing Editor
                eLife Sciences Publications, Ltd
                14 May 2019
                : 8
                [1 ]deptEvolutionary Studies Institute (ESI), School of Geosciences University of the Witwatersrand JohannesburgSouth Africa
                [2 ]CONICET-Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas Buenos AiresArgentina
                [3 ]MUSE, Museo delle Scienze TrentoItaly
                [4 ]Museo Archeologico del Finale Finale Ligure BorgoItaly
                [5 ]deptDipartimento di Scienze della Terra, dell’Ambiente e della Vita (DISTAV) Università degli Studi di Genova GenoaItaly
                [6 ]deptDipartimento di Antichità, Filosofia, Storia (DAFIST) Università degli Studi di Genova GenoaItaly
                [7 ]Grotte di Toirano ToiranoItaly
                [8 ]Soprintendenza Archeologia Belle Arti e Paesaggio per la Città Metropolitana di Genova e le province di Imperia, La Spezia e Savona GenoaItaly
                [9 ]deptDipartimento di Civiltà e Forme del Sapere Università di Pisa PiseItaly
                Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology Germany
                Yale University United States
                Yale University United States
                Yale University United States
                Universidad Nacional de Río Negro Argentina
                University of Montreal Canada
                © 2019, Romano et al

                This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use and redistribution provided that the original author and source are credited.

                Funded by: Comune di Toirano;
                Award Recipient :
                Funded by: Università di Genova;
                Award Recipient :
                Funded by: FundRef, Museo delle Scienze;
                Award Recipient :
                The funders provide financial assistance for fieldwork and publication fees.
                Research Article
                Evolutionary Biology
                Custom metadata
                Traces of crawling locomotion, including children younger than 3 years old, are documented for the first time in the global human ichnological record.

                Life sciences

                none, human, bear, dog


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