Researchers found ancient human footprints in Morocco (Credit: Sedrati, M., et al./ CC-BY-SA-2.0/

An international team of archeologists examining boulders in Larache, Morocco, in June 2022 stumbled upon an exciting find — 85 ancient human footprints pressed on the beach. The two trails of intact prints are estimated to be around 90,000 years old. They are the first such tracks found in North Africa. They are also among the oldest ones attributed to modern humans. The details of the fascinating discovery were published in the journal Nature in January 2024.

"Between tides, I said to my team that we should go north to explore another beach," said study leader Mouncef Sedrati. "We were surprised to find the first print. At first, we weren't convinced it was a footprint, but then we found more of the trackway."

To confirm they were human footprints, Sedrati and his team looked for features like a rounded heel, a plantar arch, and short toes. The close examination led them to conclude that the 85 prints were made by at least five individuals of various ages. One set of footprints appeared to belong to an adult male, who was 6 feet 2 inches (188 cm) tall. The remarkable height was unusual in prehistoric humans.

The footprints are believed to be 90,000 years old (Credit: Sedrati, M., et al./ CC-BY-SA-2.0/

"We took measurements on-site to determine the length and depth of the prints," Sedrati said. "Based on the foot pressure and size of the footprints, we were able to determine the approximate age of the individuals, which included children, adolescents and adults."

The researchers believe the footprints were preserved due to a combination of factors.

"The exceptional thing is the position of the beach on a rocky platform that is covered in clay sediments," Sedrati said. "These sediments create good conditions to preserve the tracks on the sandbar while the tides rapidly buried the beach. That's why the footprints are so well preserved here."

The beach layout helped preserve the footprints (Credit: Sedrati, M., et al./ CC-BY-SA-2.0/

Sedrati's team is not sure why the ancient humans were on the beach. They could have been searching for food or perhaps cooling off. The individuals may also have been simply traveling through the area. Future analysis of the site could reveal more information. However, the scientists will have to act fast. The rocky platform on which the prints were found is eroding and may eventually collapse.

"We hope to learn about the total history of this group of humans and what they were doing there," Sedrati said.