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A multidisciplinary approach to a unique palaeolithic human ichnological record from Italy (Bàsura Cave)

  1. Marco Romano  Is a corresponding author
  2. Paolo Citton
  3. Isabella Salvador
  4. Daniele Arobba
  5. Ivano Rellini
  6. Marco Firpo
  7. Fabio Negrino
  8. Marta Zunino
  9. Elisabetta Starnini
  10. Marco Avanzini
  1. University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa
  2. CONICET-Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas, Argentina
  3. MUSE, Museo delle Scienze, Italy
  4. Museo Archeologico del Finale, Italy
  5. Università degli Studi di Genova, Italy
  6. Grotte di Toirano, Italy
  7. Soprintendenza Archeologia Belle Arti e Paesaggio per la Città Metropolitana di Genova e le province di Imperia, La Spezia e Savona, Italy
  8. Università di Pisa, Italy
Research Article
Cite this article as: eLife 2019;8:e45204 doi: 10.7554/eLife.45204
15 figures, 1 video, 6 tables and 2 additional files

Figures

Planimetry of the ‘Grotta della Bàsura’ and location of human, bear and canid footprints.

White rectangles enclose the three-dimensional reconstructions, obtained via laser scanner, of the innermost room (‘Sala dei Misteri’ - left) and the main gallery (‘Corridoio delle impronte’ - right) of the cave, where the human footprints are preserved. Cross-sections obtained from the three-dimensional reconstruction of the main gallery are highlighted in red and show the branching of the ‘lower’ and ‘upper’ corridors, respectively. Blue rectangle indicate the four areas within the main gallery where most of the human footprints are concentrated (A and B for the lower corridor, C and D for the upper corridor).

https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.45204.003
Human footprints imprinted on muddy substrate in different moisture conditions.

C37, Human footprint referred to the Morph. 5 (‘lower corridor’). CA1 and C9, Human footprint referred to the Morph. 4 (‘upper corridor’). C33, Human footprint referred to the Morph. 3 (‘lower corridor’). SM15, Human footprint referred to the Morph. 3 (‘Sala dei Misteri’). CA8, Human footprint referred to the Morph. 3 (‘upper corridor’). SM5 and SM42, Human footprint referred to the Morph. 2 (‘Sala dei Misteri’). SM17 and SM18, Human footprint referred to the Morph. 1 (‘Sala dei Misteri’).

https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.45204.004
Finger and hand prints.

C0, Two finger traces on the concretioned side-wall of the ‘lower corridor’. C26b, Finger traces (‘lower corridor’). C72, Hand print (‘lower corridor’). SM44, finger traces (‘Sala dei Misteri’). SM55, Finger flutings on the clay on the clay floor (‘Sala dei Misteri’). SM56, Finger flutings on a clay-coated stalagmite (‘Sala dei Misteri’). P8.1, P1.6, Coal dirtied handprints (‘Sala dei Misteri’).

https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.45204.005
Canidae incertae sedis and bear footprints.

C47-C48-C53 Canidae footprint on saturated mud (‘upper’ corridor). CA12 well preserved Canidae footprint (‘upper corridor’). SM12-SM41 bear footprint (Sala dei Misteri). C12 bear handprint (‘lower corridor’).

https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.45204.007
Figure 5 with 1 supplement
Principal Component Analysis based on the best-preserved footprints from ‘Sala dei Misteri’ and ‘Corridoio delle impronte’.

(a) The five morphotypes to which footprints have been referred are shown above. (b) Selected outlines of the best preserved footprints, for each recognized morphotype, are reported.

https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.45204.008
Figure 5—figure supplement 1
Loadings for the first three principal components.

(a) Dt1-BL; (b) Dt2-BL; (c) Dt3-BL; (d) Ball medial (mtm-BL); (e) Ball lateral (mtl-BL); (f) Heel medial (ccm-BL); (g) Heel lateral (ctul-BL); (h) Ball (mtm-horiz); (i) Heel (ctul-horiz). Anatomical abbreviations as in Methods section.

https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.45204.009
Plantigrade tracks from the ‘lower corridor’.

(a) Cast of the 1950s reproducing tracks C61, C63 and C64, preserved in the sector A of the ‘lower corridor’ (see Figure 1 main text). (b) Digital terrain model of the cast obtained from the HDI 3D Scanner. (c) Topographic profile with contour lines, obtained from b. (d) Interpretive draw. Note that the tracks C61 and C63 were most likely left by a producer (Morph. 4) crouched against the side-wall of the ‘lower corridor’.

https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.45204.012
Plantigrade track from the ‘lower corridor’.

(a) Cast of the 1950s reproducing the track C60 preserved in the sector A of the ‘lower corridor’ (see Figure 1 main text). (b) Digital terrain model of the cast obtained from the HDI 3D Scanner. (c) Topographic profile with contour lines, obtained from b. (d) Interpretive draw. A superimposed partial canid track, C60b, is clearly recognizable in the metatarsal area of the human footprint (Morph. 5).

https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.45204.013
Selection of semi-plantigrade and knee traces from the ‘lower corridor’ of the ‘Corridoio delle impronte’ in the Bàsura cave, indicating crawling locomotion of the producers.

(a) Associated metatarsal (C44) and knee (C45) traces allowing estimation of the tibial length of the producer. (b) Knee traces (C45, C42 and C41) imprinted on a plastic, waterlogged muddy substrate. (c) Metatarsal traces (C26, C44 and C44b) imprinted on a plastic, waterlogged muddy substrate. (d1) cast of the 1950s reproducing two knee (C41 and C42) and two metatarsal (C44, C44b) traces preserved in the area B of the ‘lower corridor’ (see Figure 1). (d2) Digital Terrain Model obtained from the HDI 3D Scanner. (d3) Topographic profile with contour lines, obtained from d2. (d4, Interpretive draw. In the knee trace, C42 are located the impressions of the patella (a), vastus medials (b), the fibular head (c), the patellar ligament (d) and the tibial tuberosity (e).

https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.45204.014
Crawling locomotion in the ‘lower corridor’ (sector B in Figure 1).

(a) Color topographic profile obtained from the digital photogrammetric model. (b) Topographic contoured profile. (c) Interpretive draw of the track-bearing surface (numbers identify single tracks and traces and are to be intended as preceded by the letter C). (d1) Digital Terrain Model obtained from a cast of the 1950s reproducing a small area of the ‘lower corridor’. (d2) Topographic profile with contour lines, obtained from d1. (d3) Interpretive draw and timing of the different recognized tracks.

https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.45204.015
Timing of impressions of human footprints.

The interference between footprints attributed to different individuals suggests a single exploring event of the cave. In particular the cross-overlapping of MP3 and MP4 trackmakers confirms their contemporary entry into the main gallery.

https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.45204.016
Reconstruction of the exploration routes chosen by the producers to enter and exit the cave.

(B) Crawling locomotion adopted by the producers to cross the ‘lower corridor’ and access to the innermost rooms of the cave. (C) Exit route passing through the ‘upper corridor’, traveled by the producers in complete erect walking. The smallest producers are not reported in the sketch.

https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.45204.017
Human tracks from the ‘lower corridor’.

(a) Tracks C26, C26b, C25 and C24 from the sector B of the ‘lower corridor’ (see Figure 1 main text). (b) Digital terrain model obtained from high-resolution photogrammetry. (c) Topographic profile with contour lines, obtained from b. (d) Interpretive draw. C26b is interpreted as a partial hand-print of which only digit traces are preserved, interfering with a metatarsal trace deeply imprinted on a muddy, highly plastic, substrate.

https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.45204.018
Shallow human tracks from the ‘upper corridor’.

(a) Tracks CA8, CA9, CA10 and Ca11b from the sector C of the ‘upper corridor’ (see Figure 1 main text). (b) Digital terrain model obtained from high-resolution photogrammetry. (c) Topographic profile with contour lines, obtained from b. (d) Interpretive draw. Tracks were impressed on a hard carbonate substrate covered by a thin muddy deposit, few millimeters in thickness.

https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.45204.020
Profile and map of the archaeo-paleontological excavations in the Mysteries Hall (left), soil micromorphology sampling and view of the excavations (right).

The sampled charcoal for dating are highlighted by a red dot.

https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.45204.021
Adopted landmarks utilized to perform morphometric analysis, showed in two distinct morphotypes (Morphs 3 and 4) as example.

Landmarks in the distal portion of digit traces 4, 5, and in the medial, central and lateral portions of the sole trace were not considered reliable enough for the large variability, higher than the fixed error value (±0.5 cm).

https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.45204.023

Videos

Video 1
Virtual exploration of the cave showing the crawling locomotion adopted by the Palaeolithic group to cross the main gallery and to access the innermost rooms of the cave.
https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.45204.019

Tables

Table 1
Radiometric dating of charcoals collected from the trampling palaeosurface during 2017 excavations inside the ‘Sala dei misteri’.

*14C ages have been calibrated to calendar years with software program: OxCal, version 4.3. Used calibration curve: IntCal13.

https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.45204.006
Sample
name
ProvenanceDated materialDescriptionLab. codeF14C ± 1σ14C Age (yr BP)
±1σ
Calibrated* dating result
(95.4 probability)
%C%Nδ13C
(in ‰;±1σ)
δ15N
(in ‰;±1σ)
C/N ratio
Bàsura SM B5 17Bsala dei misteri’, square B5, Unit 1Charcoal (AAA)Pinus t. sylvestris/mugoGrA-695980.2160 ± 0.001612310 ± 6012720–12110 cal BC71.4-‐25.24 ± 0.14--
Bàsura SM D6 33BSala dei misteri’,
square D6, Unit 1
charcoal (AAA)Pinus t. sylvestris/mugoGrA-695970.2145 ± 0.001612370 ± 6012830–12165 cal BC63.3-‐26.37 ± 0.14--
Table 2
Footprint shape features after Robbins footprint recording form (1985, p.97–102).
https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.45204.010
IDLeft (L) or right (R) footGeneral appearanceRelative length of toesToes region general appearance length - widthToe one positionBall region, general appearance length-widthArch regionHeel region, general appearanceHell posterior margin
LengthWidthMedial marginLateral margin
SM3Rshortbroad1, 2, ?short - broadextended, anteriorlystraightconcavecircularconvex pronouncedMorphotype 1
SM4L1,2,3,4,5short - broadextended, anteriorlyshort - moderateconcave
SM43Lshortbroad1,2, ?short - broadextended, anteriorlystraightconvexconvex pronounced
SM17Rshortbroad1,2,3,4,5short - broadextended, anteriorlystraight/concaveconvexconvex pronounced
SM5Rmoderatemoderate1,2,3,4,5short - broadextended oblique mediallylong - moderateconcaveconcaveconvex slightMorphotype 2
SM42Rmoderate1,2, ?extended oblique mediallyconcaveconvex pronounced
SM26Lmoderatebroad1,2,3,4,5short - moderateextended oblique laterallyconcaveconcaveconvex slight
CA8Rlongmoderate1,2,3,4,5moderate - broadextended oblique mediallylong - moderateconcavestraightoblongconvex pronouncedMorphotype 3
CA10Rlongmoderate1,2,3,4moderate - broadextended oblique mediallystraight/concavestraightoblongconvex pronounced
SM15Llongmoderate2,3,1,4,5moderate - broadextended oblique mediallylong - narrowconcavestraightoblongconvex pronounced
SM11Rlongmoderate1,2,3,4,5short - broadextended anteriorlystraight/concaveconvexoblongconvex pronounced
SM6Llongmoderate2,1,3,4,5short - broadflexed slightlong - narrowconcaveconvexoblongconvex pronounced
SM1Llongmoderate2,3,1,4,5short - broadextended oblique mediallymoderate - narrowunknownconvexcircularconvex pronounced
C33Llongbroad1,2,3,4,5long - broadextended oblique mediallylong - broadconcaveconvexoblongconvex pronounced
C36Llongvery narrow1,2,3,4,5moderate - narrowextended oblique laterallylong - narrowconcavestraightoblongconvex pronounced
CA1Rlong1,2,3,4moderate - broadextended anteriorlymoderate - narrowstraightoblongconvex, pronuncedMorphotype 4
CA2Llongmoderate1,2,3,4,5moderate - broadextended anteriorlymoderate - narrowconcavestraightoblongconvex pronunced
C61Llongmoderate1,2,3,4,5moderate - broadextended oblique mediallymoderate - narrowstraight/concavestraight/convexoblongconvex pronunced
C63Rlongmoderate1,2,3,4,5moderate - broadextended anteriorlymoderate - narrowstraight/concavestraight/concaveoblongconvex pronunced
M21Rlongmoderate1,2,3,4,5moderate - broadextended anteriorlymoderate - narrowconcavestraightoblongconvex pronunced
C9Rlongmoderate1extended anteriorlymoderate - narrowstraightconvexoblongconvex pronunced
C44bLlongbroad2,1,3,4,5short - broadextended oblique mediallymoderate - broadconcaveconvexoblongconvex, moderate
C60Llongbroad1,2,3,4,5moderate - broadextended oblique laterallymoderate - broadstraight/concavestraight/concavecircularconvex moderateMorphotype 5
C37Llongbroad1,2,3,4,5moderate - broadextended anteriorlymoderate - broadstraight/concavestraight/concavecircularconvex moderate
C35bRlongbroad1,2,3,4,5moderate - broadextended anteriorlymoderate - broadstraight/concavecircularconvex moderate
C44Llongbroad1,2,3,4,5moderate - broadextended anteriorlymoderate - broadconcavestraight/concaveoblongconvex pronunced
Table 3
Measurements and elaboration data (foot index, stature, body mass and age) based on the best-preserved tracks from the ‘Sala dei Misteri’ and ‘Corridoio delle impronte’.

*Body mass: (a) Citton et al., 2017; (b) Bavdekar et al., 2006; (c) Grivas et al., 2008 (see text).

https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.45204.011
LENGTHSWIDTHSANGLES
FOOTBALLARCHHEELBALLARCHHEELAngle of toe declination
IDLeft (L) or right (R) footDt1 (cmDt2(cm)Dt3(cm)Dt4(cm)Dt5(cm)medial (mtm-BL)(cm)lateral (mtl-BL)(cm)medial (ntu-BL)(cm)lateral (mttu-BL)(cm)medial (ccm-BL)(cm)lateral (ctul-BL)(cm)mtm-
horiz(cm)
mttu-horiz(cm)ctul-horiz(cm)T1-T5(degrees)max FL (cm)max FW (mtm-mtl) (cm)arc angle(degrees)Foot indexstature(cm)body mass *(kg)age
SM3R1312.310.59.25.56.82.32.45.54.74.3136200.4684.3611.78(a)Morpho
type 1
SM4L13.512.511.5119,810.2845.52.21.65.544.24013.56.5220.4887.6112.55(a)
SM43L13.513.510.59.45.56.52.21.865.54.613.56.5200.4887.6112.55(a)
SM17R14.213.813.512.610.810.28.55621.86.54.843214.26.8250.4892.1513.70(a)
13.55 ± 0.490.48 ± 0.0187.93 ± 3,2012.64 ± 0,79(a)<3
SM5R1716.815.5141312122,526.5535176.8280.40110.3219.50(a)Morpho
type 2
SM42R1716.812.511.5103.42.575.4177.2250.42110.3219.50(a)
SM26R1816.515142351828-116.8122.12(a)
170.41 ± 0,02110.3219.5(a)5–6
CA8R20.219.819.418.316.815137.59.22.627.564.53020.28-0.40131.0829.18(a)8–10 boy/9–11 girlMorpho
type 3
C10R20.519.218.416.515.512.56.58.52.82.675.55.63220.58-0.39133.0330.30(a)
SM15L20.520.518.517.51615.4136.57.8427463020.57450.34133.0330.30(a)
SM11R2120.219.71816.815.414.55.583.32.37.56.8630217.5400.36136.2832.28(a)
SM6L2121.520.518.81717.515.56.88.542.29.25.55.72021.59400.42139.5234.38(a)
SM1L21.221.320.820.418.517.414.86.88.73.82.58562021.38.5400.40138.2233.52(a)
C33L22.22119.517.314.815.510.767.82.52106.55.84522.210.5480.47144.0637.55(a)
C36L22.721.719.517.816.214.532.55.54822.7--147.3139.99(a)
20.83 ± 0.510.38 ± 0.03135.19 ± 3.3331.66± 2.05 (a)8–11
CA1R22.421.820.818.514.812.873.1822.48.5-0.38145.3645.48(b) - 46.66(c)Morpho
type 4
CA2L22.522212018.517.315.268.63.53.58.866.43022.58.5440.38146.0145.66(b) - 47.19(c)
C61L2321.720.82019.516.4148.59.53.837.56.55.430239450.39149.2546.57 (b) - 49.82(c)
C63R23.322.220.819.818.717147.99.53.53.88.56.75.33223.39420.39151.2047.12(b) - 51.39 (c)
M21R-21.621.320.719.216.714.67.810.53.52.49.64.86.2-9.842---
C9R22.585.522.58-0.36146.0145.66(b) - 47.19(c)
C44bL21.5212019.518.51513742.21.51055.52021.510.5500.49139.5243.84(b)
- 41.93 (c)
22.80 ± 0.420.38 ± 0.01147.96 ± 2.7546.21 ± 0.77 (b) - 48.76 ± 2.23 (c)>14 - adult
C60L25.324.222.721.4201814.8683.53.310.57.56.43525.311520.43164.1850.76(b)Morph
otype 5
C37L25.723.822.52119.518.414.767.83.73.510.57.573525.710.5550.41166.7751.48(b)
C35bR26.224.822.820.718.71713.75.87.23.72.79.576.74026.210.5-0.40170.0252.39(b)
C44L2523.522.520.81916.814.25.56.72.829.25.76452510500.40162.2350.21(b)
25.73 ± 0.450.41 ± 0.02166.99 ± 2.9351.54 ± 0.82 (b)>14 - adult
Table 4
Footprints and relative measures used for the Principal Component Analysis.

Anatomical abbreviations as in Materials and methods Section.

https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.45204.022
FootprintsLengthsWidths
 IDIN SITUCAST 1950–51Dt1-BLDt2-BLDt3-BLBall medial (mtm-BL)Ball lateral (mtl-BL)Heel medial (ccm-BL)Heel lateral (ctul-BL)Ball (mtm-horiz)Heel (ctul-horiz)
(cm)(cm)(cm)(cm)(cm)(cm)(cm)(cm)(cm)
SM3X1312.310.59.22.32.45.54.3
SM4X13.512.511.510.282.21.65.54.2
SM43X13.513.510.59.42.21.864.6
SM17X14.213.813.510.28.521.86.54
SM5X1716.815.512122.526.55
SM42X1716.812.511.53.42.575.4
SM26X1816.515235
CA8XX20.219.819.415132.627.54.5
C10X20.519.215.512.52.82.675.6
SM15X20.520.518.515.4134276
SM11X2120.219.715.414.53.32.37.56
SM6X2121.520.517.515.542.29.25.7
SM1XX21.221.320.817.414.83.82.586
C33XX22.22119.515.510.72.52105.8
C36XX22.721.719.514.532.55.5
M21X21.621.316.714.63.52.49.66.2
CA1XX22.421.820.814.812.83.18
CA2X22.5222117.315.23.53.58.86.4
C61XX2321.720.816.4143.837.55.4
C63XX23.322.220.817143.53.88.55.3
C60XX25.324.222.71814.83.53.310.56.4
C37XX25.723.822.518.414.73.73.510.57
C35BXX26.224.822.81713.73.72.79.56.7
Appendix 1—table 1
Scores obtained from the Principal Component Analysis.
https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.45204.027
IDPC 1PC 2PC 3PC 4PC 5PC 6PC 7PC 8PC 9
SM3−0.399130.10426−0.0640140.014386−0.0250720.0160540.0167160.0119340.0074328
SM4−0.50068−0.042109−0.0149070.0322870.0032614−0.0290280.019643−0.0269980.0033618
SM43−0.40104−0.019701−0.00548950.0187350.00169770.027812−0.00332840.0083841−0.0075861
SM17−0.42507−0.00527150.0617460.0063252−0.038382−0.016919−0.01640.0059965−0.0012712
SM5−0.1976−0.035523−0.0043672−0.032420.0243280.032498−0.025789−0.011295−0.0026746
SM42−0.0869430.013761−0.087840.050378−0.009608−0.0043334−0.0258380.0151480.0033864
SM26−0.206260.166230.063691−0.0210750.0452030.0078808−6,97E-02−0.013948−0.00040047
CA8−0.051293−0.0794090.054639−0.097538−0.026619−0.014175−0.0020640.0141860.00038865
C100.00581670.0195220.0058477−0.0353110.03647−0.000188010.0320560.0198860.0034661
SM150.040758−0.12904−0.0951570.0172280.043206−0.0346620.00082729−0.005932−0.0085001
SM110.06668−0.064129−0.032745−0.0234470.0344820.026778−0.00495650.00635190.0068743
SM60.15624−0.12859−0.0450210.0020611−0.0503370.0192140.001418−0.0080637−0.0071906
SM10.14791−0.061674−0.059992−0.00978490.000343440.00880160.0193860.010087−0.0078662
C330.0099173−0.091780.168380.0431670.0021726−0.0176240.0128480.010468−0.0049062
C360.094929−0.0298120.032258−0.0470490.00257170.013716−0.009842−0.021990.0015418
M210.16838−0.07960.0218920.019189−0.0113510.022302−0.00739460.00155770.014584
CA10.163910.21771−0.00259370.00407290.0067048−0.016137−0.0179770.012136−0.0084853
CA20.220890.072731−0.0220130.006969−0.00123920.0369270.012619−0.0038898−0.0063643
C610.152710.023445−0.066418−0.034022−0.0050802−0.045788−0.0011026−0.00175060.007746
C630.198830.1176−0.020327−0.025171−0.043065−0.0291820.0070871−0.013733−0.00144
C600.283810.0304530.0492680.0231−0.0210830.01058−0.0018458−0.0051978−0.00067736
C370.31090.0460520.0297040.054401−0.00198440.0167190.011316−0.00851630.0054307
C35B0.24634−0.0451220.0334590.0335180.033381−0.031244−0.017310.00517750.0031501
Appendix 1—table 2
Loadings for each principal components.

a, Dt1-BL; b, Dt2-BL; c, Dt3-BL; d, Ball medial (mtm-BL); e, Ball lateral (mtl-BL); f, Heel medial (ccm-BL); g, Heel lateral (ctul-BL); h, Ball (mtm-horiz); i, Heel (ctul-horiz). Anatomical abbreviations as in Methods section.

https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.45204.028
PC 1PC 2PC 3PC 4PC 5PC 6PC 7PC 8PC 9
a0.36632−0.0317240.28459−0.154370.31322−0.38384−0.061146−0.36560.61412
b0.36721−0.0866340.19468−0.18930.19705−0.27853−0.3069−0.13269−0.74546
c0.34834−0.0625180.10263−0.17626−0.035551−0.093333−0.124220.882530.16995
d0.34521−0.150.03307−0.16341−0.13051−0.0191760.88858−0.036893−0.14898
e0.33106−0.13532−0.24619−0.50577−0.0658190.67412−0.2218−0.194390.099588
f0.35243−0.24194−0.733790.3425−0.19673−0.31842−0.1176−0.0704890.051056
g0.321860.93175−0.11450.050472−0.098530.0196410.025317−0.030012−0.030921
h0.30501−0.132130.507250.46978−0.570820.21548−0.15222−0.122690.031883
i0.245−0.051134−0.00267450.534990.682780.404170.101130.098963−0.039702

Additional files

Supplementary file 1

Supplementary table with all the tracks analyzed in the study.

https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.45204.024
Transparent reporting form
https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.45204.025

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