Science | 800,000 year old footprints found near Norwich

The town of Happisburgh, 15 miles from Norwich, now boasts the oldest evidence of human existence ever found outside Africa. A total of 50 footprints found on a beach exposed for only hours whilst the tide was out last summer indicate the existence of at least five different Humanoids. The discovery made by scientists from the British Museum and Queen Mary University, London is said to be the most significant archeological find in British history.

Scientists believe they have located the footprints of one adult male and possibly up to three females and four children, although the exact number is still unknown. Dr. Nick Ashton, curator for the British Museum’s prehistoric European section, outlines the fortunate circumstances needed for this discovery to occur, emphasizing the slim chance of their endurance for over 800,000 years. The nature and accessible location of their exposure including the fact scientists happened to be present close to the time, adding it was probably a million to one chance that they were found.

Of the 49 footprints found only one was rescued before oncoming tides, responsible for the erosion of the overlying rock and their initial exposure, washed away the evidence. Fortunately all 49 footprints were captured by special 3D photography so they could be analysed at Liverpool John Moore University by Dr. Isabelle De Groote who confirmed they were formed at the same time as the rock and not created later, thus confirming their very early human origin.

Some of the footprints were preserved in enough detail to reveal aspects of the heel print, foot arches and five toes, a trait distinctive to Homo-sapiens and these early ancestors known as Homo-antecessor.

Scientists have deduced from the prints placement and configuration they belonged to a group, perhaps a family walking upstream away from the sea of the Thames estuary that filled the area one million years ago. The tracks suggest a feeding behavior, perhaps looking for the staple foods of worms, crabs or shrimps in the mud.

It’s also thought that the group inhabited small islands in the estuary rather than mainland due to the increased protection from predation at night. The footprints found are in an area of compacted silt which had previously revealed flint tools and the remains of 100 mammalian, 150 insect and many plant species of similar age can be used to create an accurate reconstruction of the climate and environment the earliest European Humans inhabited.


Chris Chadburn 

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