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The earliest hominid species roamed Africa millions of years ago, where they eventually gave rise to modern Homo sapiens. Several long-extinct species that made up the branches or steps of the evolutionary tree leading down to modernity are represented in our family tree. Australopithecus afarensis, who roamed eastern Africa between 2.95 and 3.85 million years ago, was one of the earliest known ancestors of modern humans. This species stands out for several reasons, one of which is that it lived for an astounding 900,000 years before going extinct.

The oldest prints ever found on a bipedal individual are found in Tanzania, which is another intriguing difference in this species. Regretfully, these ancient prints run the risk of disappearing from the face of the earth because of climate change.

The prints can be found in what is now Tanzania at the Laetoli archaeological site. They were preserved by a second layer of ash released by a nearby volcano after being imprinted in wet volcanic ash 3.6 million years ago. About 70 prints spread across 88 feet make up the collection. The prints show which heel struck first, and the toe arrangements are more akin to those of humans than apes. This indicates that the person or people in question were bipedal, or that they walked on two feet like modern humans. Still, it was obvious that the stride was produced by much shorter legs.

Researchers have surmised that Australopithecus afarensis, whose skeletons have been discovered nearby, made the prints. About this species and how it relates to our evolutionary history, there is still much to learn. But climate change threatens knowledge like this. The exposed footprints are at risk of erosion due to heavy rains and storms.

The British Council Cultural Protection Fund has funded a project to protect the site in collaboration with St Andrew's University in Scotland and the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania to preserve it for future generations to learn from. The buildings at Winde that are associated with the brutal past of the slave trade are also covered by the funding. The grant's funds will be used to record the locations for later use and to record oral histories for an exhibit. 

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