Historic Find in Europe: Human Footprints 800K Years Old

Tracks in Britain are the oldest found outside Africa

By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff

Posted Feb 7, 2014 2:25 PM CST

(Newser) – Walking along a beach in Norfolk, England, last May, scientists spotted indents at low tide that had been washed clear of sand by a recent storm. They thought the marks might be animal prints, but on closer inspection discovered something much cooler: nearly million-year-old human footprints—the oldest ones ever found outside of Africa and the earliest evidence of life in northern Europe, reports the Guardian. Scientists think the tracks were made by up to five people, likely a mix of adults and children, somewhere between 800,000 and 900,000 years ago.

They are "one of the most important discoveries, if not the most important discovery that has been made on (Britain's) shores," one archaeologist tells the BBC. "It will rewrite our understanding of the early human occupation of Britain and indeed of Europe." The tracks were preserved in the silt and mud of an estuary all this time before being exposed on a stretch of fast-eroding coastline, reports AP. They have since been washed away. As for those ancient travelers—maybe a single family?—they were walking along a river in a valley that might have been teeming with mammoths, hippos, and rhinos.

The Happisburgh site where the prints were discovered.   (Martin Bates)
One of the ancient footprints.   (Martin Bates)
Several indentations were clear among the ancient sediment at Happisburgh.   (Martin Bates)
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