Monday, October 08, 2007

Walk in 385,000 Year Old Footsteps

Cool story:

Want to walk in the footsteps of the early humans? Tourists in Italy can do almost just that starting this weekend, after footpaths believed to have been left up to 385,000 years ago were opened to the public.

The fossilized footprints, which Italian scientists say are among the oldest anywhere, extend along six trails at the edge of the Roccamonfina volcano in southern Italy.

There is also a handprint, made when one of the primitive humans slipped on the soft earth.

The fossilized footpaths were known locally as the "Devil's Trails" for centuries because they were thought to be supernatural. Scientists first identified them properly in 2003, and had kept the area off-limits to the public until Saturday.

The article notes that you're not actually permitted to walk in the footsteps; you must keep a distance.

It's interesting to me however, how different the practice is in the US from in other parts of the world. When I traveled to Ireland, I was stunned that tourists are permitted to walk all the way back into the Newgrange passage tomb, which has such little passage space that there's no way you can avoid rubbing against the sides and top of the passage. In the US, I would imagine such a site would be off limits -- due to the certainty that the entry of thousand or millions would, over time, wear down the site. Similarly, in Mexico, there are few restrictions on tourists at many historic sites -- such as the pyramids at Teotihuacan. Tourists are allowed to walk all over the pyramids, and there are no guardrails or other safety improvements to speak of. In the US, I suspect that no one would be allowed to walk on such ancient constructs. And in the event that one could, there would almost have to be improvements in place to guard against lawsuits.

I guess Italy at least, is more like the US.

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