Researchers have identified the movements of a group of humans as they explored an Italian cave system during the late Stone Age.
The cave of Bàsura at Toirano and its human and animal fossil traces have been known since the 1950s, with the first studies conducted by Italian archaeologist Virginia Chiappella. In the current study, promoted by the Archaeological Heritage Office of Liguria, researchers from Italy, Argentina and South Africa used multiple approaches to analyse the human traces and identified for the first time crawling behaviours from around 14,000 years ago.
"In our study, we wanted to see how ancient humans explored this fascinating cave system," says first author Marco Romano, Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa. "Specifically, we set out to discover how many people entered the cave, whether they explored as individuals or as a group, their age, gender and what kind of route they took once inside the cave."
Marco Romano, Paolo Citton, Isabella Salvador, Daniele Arobba, Ivano Rellini, Marco Firpo, Fabio Negrino, Marta Zunino, Elisabetta Starnini, Marco Avanzini. A multidisciplinary approach to a unique Palaeolithic human ichnological record from Italy (Bàsura Cave). eLife, 2019; 8
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 three years old) were active members of the Upper Palaeolithic populations, even in apparently dangerous and social activities.