THEY’RE just 29 footprints, left on a beach in Crete.
What makes them significant is they’re 5.7 million years old.
There’s just one problem.
Science believes humans began to walk upright — leaving behind prints such as these — just 3.7 million years ago.
Now there’s another.
The fossilised footprint site has been looted and vandalised.
Professor of Environment and Geographical Sciences at Bournemouth University, Matthew Bennett, has published a blog in The Conversation that this incredibly important site was attacked at some point last week.
Some four to 10 prints appear to have been hacked out of the rock.
And graffiti has been sprayed over much of the remainder.
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It’s an attack with devastating implications for the science of understanding humanity’s past.
“We are fortunate that many of the best tracks remain — the people who did it clearly didn’t know what they were looking for,” Professor Bennett writes. “Our guess is that they were simply intending to sell them.”
The site had been recognised under Greek heritage laws, and local authorities were supposed to be watching it.
Greek media reports a 55-year-old man has been arrested in western Crete and that many of the prints may have been recovered.
But the damage done to this unique site is irreparable, significantly limiting future examination and verification of the prints.
“To understand the significance to someone who studies ancient tracks like these, consider it equivalent to an attempt to steal part of the Sphinx at Giza or vandals dislodging one of lintel blocks at Stonehenge,” Professor Bennett writes.
“We are lucky that the whole area has been 3D-scanned with an optical laser scanner in high resolution as part of the original study.”
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He highlights recent attempts to steal a fossilised dinosaur footprint in Scotland as being indicative of an ongoing battle with looters.
“Indeed, the challenge is always money,” he writes. “It is expensive to erect and maintain protective structures, and to gain funds you need publicity to ensure that all the stakeholders involved are aware of the scientific, social and emotional value of a site.”