In 2002 Gerard Gierlinski, a Polish Geological Institute paleontologist, was enjoying a holiday on the Greek Mediterranean island of Crete. While he was there, Gierlinski decided to explore the village of Trachilos, on the coast near the town of Kissamos. And during that visit, he stumbled across a mysterious set of some 50 footprints imprinted on the rocky beach. At the time, he categorized the footprints simply as mammalian. But subsequent studies of them led to conclusions that in scientific terms are incendiary.
It was 2010 before Gierlinski and a colleague returned to Trachilos to further examine the footprints, in fact. And several more years passed before they published a paper outlining what they’d learned. One important finding that the 2017 paper included was the age of the footprints – a staggering 5.7 million years.
The age of the footprints had been established by analyzing tiny fossils in the rocks called foraminifera. These tests can provide an accurate dating of sedimentary layers of rock. And those particular footprints lay just below a layer created 5.6 million years ago, when the Mediterranean Sea completely disappeared for a time.