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20,000-Year-Old Human Footprints Discovered in Australia

About 20,000 years ago, five human hunters sprinted across the soft clay on the edge of a wetland in what is now New South Wales, Australia. Others also wandered across the muddy landscape, including a family of five, a small child, and a one-legged man who hopped without a crutch. These early Aboriginal ancestors have long since vanished. But a record of their passage can be seen today in Mungo National Park, about 195 miles (315 kilometers) from Broken Hill. Woven among the sand dunes of the now arid Willandra Lakes World Heritage area are some 700 fossil footprints, 400 of them grouped in a set of 23 tracks. First spotted in 2003 by a young Mutthi Mutthi Aboriginal woman named Mary Pappen, Jr., the tracks are the oldest fossil human footprints ever found in Australia and the largest collection of such prints in the world. “Still Here” Mary Pappen, Sr., a Mutthi Mutthi tribal elder and Pappen Jr.’s mother, says the age of the footprints highlights just how clever and adaptable Aboriginal ancestors were. “We did not die 60,000 years ago. We didn’t dry up and die away 26,000 years ago when the lakes were last full,” she said. “We are a people that nurtured and looked after our landscape and walked across it, and we are still here today.” Steve Webb is a biological archaeologist …

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