The Trachilos tracks 1/5





Page 1/5 (this page)
Page 2/5
Page 3/5
Page 4/5
Page 5/5




Looking for the northern ape-man webpage 1/5

Text, photography: Annemieke van Roekel, geoscience journalist
More articles:

This article was first published in Gea Magazine (March 2022).

On the coast of western Crete, just west of the town of Kissamos, in 2002, a Polish palaeontologist happened to find imprints in a dipping sandstone layer right on the beach, which he recognised as trace fossils. The prints date to the Late Miocene and are associated with an upright walking creature, possibly an early human species.

The prints, found in a thin layer (a few cm) of sandstone, are now covered with a water-repellent cloth and gravel on top; a fence has been placed around the site. An information board along the road (fig. 1 and 2: detail) shows an enlarged view of the trace fossils and a paleogeographical map of north-western Crete during the late Miocene, showing that this area was connected to the Greek mainland (the Peloponnese), while the middle and eastern part of 'Crete' was made up of a few islands.

On the first day I went to look at the prints, a Greek couple came by, who had heard about the tracks on Greek radio that same day. It was the day that the publication of a second dating of the Trachilos tracks (Kirscher et al., 2021) became public. This new dating was 6.05 million years, 350,000 years older than the first dating (Gierlinski et al., 2017). Greek radio was therefore quick to act. An English tourist cycled past, whose attention was drawn to the information board. He couldn't understand why no shelter had been built over the tracks to protect them.

2 2  

Fig. 1. The site with the information panel at the beach of the village
of Trachilos in the evening sun. Photo: A. van Roekel. Fig. 2. Detail with paleomap (Late-Messinian).

Theft in 2017
Unfortunately, due to the cover with cloth and gravel (fig. 3 left and right), the visitor does not get to see much. The fact that the tracks were covered goes back to a theft in 2017. Immediately after the tracks became known, a local seized his chance and removed part of the layer, a thin 'plate', which, judging by the remainder, was simply ripped off if you stick a big knife between them. He tried to sell the loot in Thessaloniki, but was caught.

The stolen 'footsteps' were finally recovered and are now safely stored in the basement of a museum in Crete. I suspect that the remaining - in situ - part, near the beach, is inundated by waves a few times a year, but then it has to storm really hard, given the distance to the waterline, around five meters, and the height above sea level.


Figure 3. The layer with the tracks dips to the east (20
degrees) and is only a few cm thick. Photo: A. van Roekel.

More fossils in the surroundings of Trachilos
The second time I visited the site in 2021 (the first on October 11th; the second on November 3rd, hoping that the covering would be removed) I met the archaeologist looking after the site, Ioannis Papadakis. Near Trachilos, he is engaged in archaeological excavations. The area is rich in special fossils, he told me. Fossil traces of a feline with tusks have been found nearby and the fossil skeleton of a dolphin (now in a museum) was found in the adjacent Gramvousa Peninsula, immediately west of Trachilos.

Further east, 10 km from Trachilos, near the town of Voúves, detailed footprints of a hyena-like species (Iliopoulos et al., 2012) have been found in Late Miocene lacustrine sediments. These were the first trace fossils found in Crete at the time.

Page 1/5 (this page)
Page 2/5
Page 3/5
Page 4/5
Page 5/5

Top photo: Google Earth.

Copyright: Annemieke van Roekel
Last update: April 16, 2022