Earliest footprints outside Africa discovered in Norfolk

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Scientists have discovered the earliest evidence of human footprints outside of Africa, on the Norfolk Coast in the East of England.

The footprints are more than 800,000 years old and were found on the shores of Happisburgh.

They are direct evidence of the earliest known humans in northern Europe.

Details of the extraordinary markings have been published in thescience journal Plos One.

The footprints have been described as "one of the most important discoveries, if not the most important discovery that has been made on [Britain's] shores," by Dr Nick Ashton of the British Museum.

"It will rewrite our understanding of the early human occupation of Britain and indeed of Europe," he told BBC News.

The markings were first indentified in May last year during a low tide. Rough seas had eroded the sandy beach to reveal a series of elongated hollows.

I walked with Dr Ashton along the shore where the discovery was made. He recalled how he and a colleague stumbled across the hollows: "At the time, I wondered 'could these really be the case? If it was the case, these could be the earliest footprints outside Africa and that would be absolutely incredible."

Such discoveries are very rare. The Happisburgh footprints are the only ones of this age in Europe and there are only three other sets that are older, all of which are in Africa.

"At first, we weren't sure what we were seeing," Dr Ashton told me, "but it was soon clear that the hollows resembled human footprints."

The hollows were washed away not long after they were identified. The team were, however, able to capture the footprints on video that will be shown at an exhibition at London's Natural History Museum later this month.

The video shows the researchers on their hands and knees in cold, driving rain, engaged in a race against time to record the hollows. Dr Ashton recalls how they scooped out rainwater from the footprints so that they could be photographed. "But the rain was filling the hollows as quickly as we could empty them," he told me.

The team took a 3D scan of the footprints over the following two weeks. A detailed analysis of these images by Dr Isabelle De Groote of Liverpool John Moores University confirmed that the hollows were indeed human footprints, possibly of five people, one adult male and some children.

Written By: Pallab Ghosh
continue to source article at bbc.co.uk

22 COMMENTS

  1. I hope this isn’t a case of confirmation bias.

    It seems a bit strange that these prints should be found in total isolation with no other examples outside Africa.

    Nonetheless, wow! Almost a million years.

    Perhaps they will be the first tantalizing pieces of evidence which will provide the motivation for more focused searches that will now reveal other examples in the area; serendipity segueing to systematic searches.

    • In reply to #4 by Stafford Gordon:

      I hope this isn’t a case of confirmation bias.

      It seems a bit strange that these prints should be found in total isolation with no other examples outside Africa.

      Footprints are usually quite rare fossils compared with bones. Later in the article, they suggest that Homo antecessor, a species known to inhabit southern Europe around that time and so being the nearest candidate, might have migrated across a land bridge to Britain.

      • In reply to #6 by Zeuglodon:

        In reply to #4 by Stafford Gordon:

        I hope this isn’t a case of confirmation bias.

        It seems a bit strange that these prints should be found in total isolation with no other examples outside

        Africa.
        >

        Footprints are usually quite rare fossils compared with bones. Later in the article, they suggest th…

        Thanks for putting me straight on that.

        S G

  2. The markings were first indentified in May last year during a low tide. Rough seas had eroded the sandy beach to reveal a series of elongated hollows.

    The sea will continue washing them away and the YECs will then say there is no evidence! – A bit like the fossils I studied exposed in cliff by storms, years ago!

    • In reply to #5 by Alan4discussion:

      The markings were first indentified in May last year during a low tide. Rough seas had eroded the sandy beach to reveal a series of elongated hollows.

      The sea will continue washing them away and the YECs will then say there is no evidence! – A bit like the fossils I studied exposed in cliff by sto…

      But, but, but…..they were placed there by the Devil!

  3. In reply to #2 by IDLERACER:

    Norfolk, Virginia…

    Yep, and the Norfolk Pine (Australia).

    Western Virginia is one place the mineral Staurolite is found. In this particular region, the crystal possesses a “twinning” formation; these angles sometimes take the form of a (small) christian cross. One legend is, the stones are fossilized tears of the Cherokee when forced marched westward.

  4. “At first, we weren’t sure what we were seeing,” Dr Ashton told me, “but it was soon clear that the hollows resembled human footprints.”

    The hollows were washed away not long after they were identified. The team were, however, able to capture the footprints on video that will be shown at an exhibition at London’s Natural History Museum later this month.<

    Look, I don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade but this is akin to an extraordinary find I made last week. I saw the face of Jesus in a large dog-turd, but the rain subsequently washed away all traces of it.

    • Look, I don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade but this is akin to an extraordinary find I made last week. I saw the face of Jesus in a large dog-turd, but the rain subsequently washed away all traces of it.

      Did you capture this on video? If so, I suggest you send it to Ken Ham, not the turd itself, the video. It would make an appropriate exhibition at the Creation Museum, and if you are lucky, with your name referenced for the discovery.

      In reply to #12 by godfrey.johnson:

      “At first, we weren’t sure what we were seeing,” Dr Ashton told me, “but it was soon clear that the hollows resembled human footprints.”

      The hollows were washed away not long after they were identified. The team were, however, able to capture the footprints on video that will be shown at an exhibit…

      • In reply to #13 by Marktony:

        Look, I don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade but this is akin to an extraordinary find I made last week. I saw the face of Jesus in a large dog-turd, but the rain subsequently washed away all traces of it.

        Did you capture this on video? If so, I suggest you send it to Ken Ham, not the turd itself,…

        All right, I’ve a confession to make. It may well have been the face of Mohammad. I’m forever confusing the two. It’s that damned beard you see.

        All the same, I’m glad I’m not the only sucker for pareidolia, bless its little heart — or face, or foot, or whatever.

        • Don’t worry, you can rely on Ken to know the difference.

          In reply to #14 by godfrey.johnson:

          In reply to #13 by Marktony:

          Look, I don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade but this is akin to an extraordinary find I made last week. I saw the face of Jesus in a large dog-turd, but the rain subsequently washed away all traces of it.

          Did you capture this on video? If so, I suggest you send it to…

          • In reply to #16 by Marktony:

            Don’t worry, you can rely on Ken to know the difference.

            In reply to #14 by godfrey.johnson:

            In reply to #13 by Marktony:

            Look, I don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade but this is akin to an extraordinary find I made last week. I saw the face of Jesus in a large dog-turd, but the rain subsequentl…

            He will probably do the banana skit again.

    • In reply to #12 by godfrey.johnson:

      Look, I don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade but this is akin to an extraordinary find I made last week.

      Did you read the journal article linked at the beginning ? They have some justification for why these are human footprints not natural occurrences.

      Michael

      • Did you read the journal article linked at the beginning ? They have some justification for why these are human footprints not natural occurrences.<

        Memo to self: Do use emoticons whenever possible; that way, ALL readers will know you’re commenting with tongue in cheek :0)

        I was playing the devil’s advocate there, Michael — with emphasis on “playing”.

        I did indeed read the article. Fascinating, and I have little doubt that the video evidence is above board and totally convincing. However, video footage can be manipulated, and what’s to prevent a Ken Ham from accusing Dr Ashton et al from doing just that?

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