World news in brief: hominin footprints and hunter-gatherer cooking practices

Etruscan and Roman bronze statues found in Italy

Recent excavations at the Bagno Grande (‘great bath’) of San Casciano dei Bagni in Tuscany – home to a natural thermal spring that was used as a place of worship and healing from the 3rd century BC by the Etruscans, and continued to be used throughout the Roman period – has revealed the largest deposit of Etruscan and Roman bronze statues ever found in Italy.

The investigation, led by Jacopo Tabolli from the Università per Stranieri di Siena, uncovered 24 exceptionally preserved bronze statues, some depicting deities such as Hygeia (goddess of health) and Apollo (god of healing and disease), and others depicting mortals, including children, matrons, and emperors, who may have visited the bath. It is believed the site was used until the rise of Christianity, which saw the end of worship there, at which time the pools containing the statues were sealed over with heavy stone pillars, helping to keep them in pristine condition for more than 2,000 years.

Hominin footprint in Spain dated

A set of hominin footprints found at Matalascañas, Spain, has been dated using OSL (optically stimulated luminescence) to c.295,800 years ago. This makes them 200,000 years older than was initially believed in 2020, when they were first discovered.

Image: Dr Antonio Rodríguez Ramírez

This new date places the footprints firmly in the Middle Pleistocene, a time of significant climatic change from a warm, interglacial period to a colder, glacial one. Based on this new chronology, it is unlikely that these footprints were made by Neanderthals, as originally thought, but they may have been made by an earlier ancestor of them instead (see CA 395). More than 236 footprints have been identified at Matalascañas, but only 10% are considered well-preserved. They were probably made by at least three individuals, including one 6- to 8-year-old child.

The actual palaeo diet

New research, which shed light on how some Palaeolithic hunter-gatherers may have prepared their food, microscopically examined charred food remains from hearths in Franchthi Cave (Greece) and Shanidar Cave (Iraqi Kurdistan). The results, recently published in Antiquity journal (, suggest that the occupants of these caves collected a wide range of plant foods, including wild pulses that would have required several preparation steps in order to remove toxic or bitter compounds. Combined with other archaeological evidence, this suggests that even before the advent of agriculture, as early as the Middle Palaeolithic, people were undertaking specialised and labour-intensive food preparation methods.