Oct. 14, 2008— -- It's official: the oldest human footprints ever found are 345,000 years old, give or take 6000. Known as the "devils' trails", they have been preserved in volcanic ash atop the Roccamonfina volcano in Italy.
The prints were first described to the world by Paolo Mietto and colleagues of the University of Padova in Italy in 2003 after amateur archaeologists pointed them out.
At the time, the team estimated that the prints were anywhere between 385,000 and 325,000 years old, based on when the volcano was thought to have last erupted.
Now, Stéphane Scaillet and colleagues at the Laboratory of Climatic and Environmental Sciences, France, have used argon dating techniques to verify the prints' age.
"Their more rigorous methods confirm that these are the oldest human footprints ever found," says Mietto. The new findings also confirm that the owners of the footprints were Homo heidelbergensis.