Oldest Human Footprints Outside of Africa Found

By Carl Engelking | February 7, 2014 1:28 pm
Researchers discovered the oldest human footprints outside of Africa in Britain.

View of footprint surface looking north. Credit: Simon Parfitt

Citizens of Britain can now trace their origins several large steps backward in time. Archaeologists recently discovered the oldest set of human footprints outside of Africa along the eastern coast of Britain.

Rough seas last summer in the village of Happisburgh, Norfolk, washed away portions of the shore revealing a set of about 50 footprints. Researchers estimate the prints are between 800,000 and 1 million years old, which is now the oldest evidence of early humans ever found in northern Europe.

Footprints’ History

Due to the various sizes of footprints, researchers believe a mixed group of at least five adults and juveniles were walking along mudflats of what was then the Thames River estuary. Based on the size of the prints, researchers believe the group was related to Homo antecessor, or “Pioneer Man,” which died off some 800,000 years ago. The group was likely scouting the area for food, and could have been related.

Researchers found 50 footprints from a group of five adults and juveniles.

Researchers found 50 footprints from a group of five adults and juveniles.

Prior to the Norfolk find, the oldest human remains found in Britain were a set of tools dating back 700,000 years. Older human evidence tends to be found in southern Europe where researchers, for example, have unearthed 780,000-year-old skull fragments in southern Spain.

The Norfolk find sheds new light on the tenacity and adaptability of northern Europe’s earliest human ancestors, Chris Stringer, an archaeologist with the project, told the Associated Press:

“This makes us rethink our feelings about the capacity of these early people, that they were coping with conditions somewhat colder than the present day,” he said. “Maybe they had cultural adaptations to the cold we hadn’t even thought were possible 900,000 years ago. Did they wear clothing? Did they make shelters, windbreaks and so on? Could they have the use of fire that far back?”

A Rare Find

The discovery is significant to our understanding of human origins, but it’s also incredibly lucky. Finding preserved footsteps is difficult, given the punishing forces of erosion along seacoasts. Previously, the record for the oldest set of footprints in Britain was 7,500 years old, which pales in comparison to the Norfolk find. The Norfolk team called the Happisburgh prints a “one in a million” find.

Fortunately, archaeologists captured plenty of photographic evidence to study Britain’s oldest footprints in May 2013, because what the sea gives it also takes away. Most of the ancient footprints have already disappeared due to erosion. However, researchers are optimistic that the same forces could someday unveil new evidence, as well.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts
MORE ABOUT: human origins
  • Wayne

    Where are the dinosaur prints?

    • Astrodwarf

      LOL!

    • Michael Cadotte

      The dinosaur footprints and human footprints were found together along the Mississippi

      • Wayne

        Oh, I forgot about that. I think mama grizzly from Alaska was the one who discovered them. You betcha!

      • SixSixSix

        No those were Texas Republican prints, they only act like dinosaurs.

        • Lee Dwyer

          Are they that evolved?

          • Claudia Gibson

            No, they’re only acting!

          • SixSixSix

            Well, pond scum would get insulted, so we have to compare them to extinct life forms.

      • Phinneus

        Of course the dino prints were probably 30-40 million or so years older than the hominind prints. You never really believed Ally Oop and Dino did you? The two species never remotely inhabited the Earth at the same time..

      • Claudia Gibson

        Hahahaha, boy did I need that laugh!

  • Cindy Leah Gordon

    Simply amazing!
    Someone should share this with Ken Ham, then step back because his head will explode!

    • Nátán Ailín Ó Duinn

      were you there to observe???? hmmm???? lol

      • SixSixSix

        Yes. I am older than dirt and fossils. Just ask my kids, they will tell you.

    • StanChaz

      It’s not in his “book”. Poor boy.

      • kandy830

        My Uncle Caleb just got red Ford Focus ST by working off of
        a computer. try this F­i­s­c­a­l­M­a­z­e­.­ℂ­o­m

    • nestazhe265

      My Uncle Harrison recently got Infiniti Q50
      Sedan from only workin part time on a home computer… go to this website J­u­m­p­9­9­9­.­ℂ­o­m

  • naedrdmk

    A million years ago? Somewhere, a creationist just said, “Dammit!”

    • Claudia Gibson

      I freakin love science!

  • jhnycmltly

    No pyramids?

  • Bear Eggers

    Not only were hominids walking around Britain 800,000 years ago, if you look closely at the picture you can see evidence they using Japanese cameras. Amazing.

    • Lee Dwyer

      Yes I would have lined a clearer photo sobs perhaps a ruler as a scale A lense cover? Really. Maybe it is evidence of prehistoric Japanese tourist footprints! Taking photos of dinosaurs!

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com William Stolley

    Obviously wearing some sort of sandal/boot as well; footwear inspired by aliens no doubt.

    • SixSixSix

      Yes, yes. Right after teaching them how to smash with jaw of a wild animal (how 2001 and Cain like, wow science (fiction) and religion (fiction) together!).

  • Texan4Peace

    The first line of the article is misleading; as it states later, these “early humans” are most likely NOT the direct ancestors of any human living today (all of whom are presumably descended from a more recent migration out of Africa, about 70,000 years ago), but rather a line that died out.

    • uncommonsense2010

      I’m not going to argue with you. but the fact is, no matter how much we think we know scientifically. It always gets proven wrong.

      The only thing I can say is use current data / methods (even if flawed) write as many books using those, swear it’s all true, make a living pushing whatever current truth there is.

      After all a candle in a glass once filled it with a chemical called Phlogistin that extinguished the flame. THEN later after people were rewarded for those discoveries did we discover it was actually the lack of O2 to oxidize the hydrocarbons.

      Truth is, most science has flaws including evolutionary man. But don’t let that stop any of us from trying to make bank off it while people still believe it.

      • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com Peter French

        All science can do is theorize from the evidence available. Until there’s new evidence that disproves the theory, it’s the best there is. Is that flawed? I don’t think so. You might say the existence of a chemical known as Oxygen is just a theory, but it works better than Phlogiston.

        • Phinneus

          One of the problems is that most of the’writers’ that
          pen these accounts do not have a clue, and make dumb statements and assertions…and many will now swear by them.

        • Emkay

          come on now…is it Phlogiston, or Phlogistin?

  • Herne Webber

    1) Did H. antecessor interbreed with or evolve into H. neanderthalensis? Because otherwise it would be hard to say we descendants of the Brits have the prior as Ancestors. Possible, but hard. If they did not become or interbreed with Neanderthals, their descendants could also have bred with early modern humans in one of the earliest of those expansions, but, ahem, ‘proof, please.’

    2) Okay, did NOBODY think to put down something to fix the prints before they *could* be eroded!?!?!?!? Did ANYBODY take casts? Where were the archaeologists?

    • MsColleen

      They made casts, AND they took extensive high-quality photos. They also mapped the footprints in the same way any modern archaeological dig is mapped.

  • manjeetchaturve

    So many people walked about 8,00,000 years ago. Where are they?

    • Irwell Pete

      They all died

      • manjeetchaturve

        Yeah,but when we die there will be carbon footprints left.

        • Cheffy

          Ha, Ha – good one! How refreshing!

          • Njovu

            Do i see a footprint?? guess it takes a scientist to figure out a footprint from this mesh.

  • WSBK

    Are they sure it wasn’t just college kids partying on the beach last summer?

  • Blake Roberts

    Gross! Why didn’t they stay on the sidewalks instead of trudging through the mud?

  • StanChaz

    What happened to create/preserve such footprints? And not have them eroded after zillions of years….

    • uncommonsense2010

      There was an early dinosaur called the Hoaxasaurus. It walked everywhere.

    • Cheffy

      Why is this question asked so often??? They did say it was a one in a million kind of find…. Dinosaur footprints have been found in Utah that have since been wiped away by erosion. It may have taken 50 or 100 years, but that’s about a day’s worth of erosion by the sea for a sandstone outcrop (or metamorphosed sandstone) on a sand beach. Same idea as 15th century ships being unearthed along a coast due to conditions that only occur every 500 years. It’s not that hard to understand.

      • johndouglasdahl@gmail.com

        i would like to find dinosaur foot prints that were eroded away. would i be able to see them ? oh, yeah, in my lawn. no, wrong. usually that is fossilzed dog poop, but no other tracks

        • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com Paul Nagi

          Hate to say it but if the footprint is eroded away, you won’t find it…

  • Rockefeller

    This is intriguingly magnificent!How is it even possible that,an 800,000-1000000 year-old footprints could survive the ravages of time?It looks like the footprints were deliberately stenciled in an indestructible concrete.

  • sloppyslim

    if those photos show everybody but the kids were wearing moccasins , that is news ;)

  • vaffangool

    Come on, how about some real science?

    How is it that these footprints survived for 800,000 years–only to be eroded into oblivion in the months following their discovery?

    • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com Jesse Elmore

      They were protected by overlying layers of material that were recently washed away by a storm.

    • Guest

      Undead Rufus:

      Thank you for the link.

      The rarity of such evidence is equalled only by its fragility at Happisburgh, where severe coastal erosion is both revealing and rapidly destroying sites that are of international significance. The pre-glacial succession around Happisburgh has now revealed several archaeological locations of Early Pleistocene and early Middle Pleistocene age with evidence of flint artefacts, cut-marked bones and footprints.

      Surely a goodly chunk of sands can be removed en masse when evidence of Pleistocene human activity faces certain obliteration.

    • vaffangool

      @undeadrufus:disqus
      Thank you for the link.

      The rarity of such evidence is equalled only by its fragility at Happisburgh, where severe coastal erosion is both revealing and rapidly destroying sites that are of international significance.
      The pre-glacial succession around Happisburgh has now revealed several archaeological locations of Early Pleistocene and early Middle Pleistocene age with evidence of flint artefacts, cut-marked bones and footprints.

      Surely a goodly chunk of sands can be removed en masse when evidence of Pleistocene human activity faces certain obliteration.

  • PRParker

    I don’t see what looks like a footprint in the picture.Great find however.

  • Michelle Williams

    Maybe all these scientist should speak the truth about how all people share a common DNA fragment. Maybe then all the unnecessary racist feelings would stop. Maybe there is a reason for all the terrible diseases out there. Know one wants to lose a love one to them. However, ironically; every race of people, no matter how much pigment in their skin knows someone who has passed because of one. Also, how ’bout that common cold? Everyone seems to get one. Or is it only common to very dark people. Let’s not forget those dreaded stomach viruses. Watch out whites. Only you guys get that. Such unnecessary crap in the world. Everyone would just do well to love and respect each other. God was right and we here on this earth have always been wrong. Scientist do us a favor. How about using science to bring us all together instead of further spreading lies to separate us.

    • Cheffy

      Of course you used science to make all these assertions, right? Very few scientists spread lies. Just look at the statistics. How many scientists are there? And how many have spread lies? And you can ask any mathematician how theories are postulated and then proven. That’s what mathematics is. Rigorous. That’s what science is too. Rigorous. It just takes longer to prove our worldly theorems than it takes a mathematician to create, or discover, something like Riemann’s geometry, postulate the theorems and then prove them. God wasn’t right or wrong. It’s really not that hard to understand if people would just stop spreading lies about things they know nothing about….. That’s what God really wants.

      • Michelle Williams

        And it’s not really that hard to figure out that someone who has been taught to think that there is such a thing as a superior race or that a person can be counted as two- thirds a person, really has belief in theorems that are accepted as true; not that they truly are. However, as I was saying. Thank you Father for giving us definite proof that the things we actually witness with our very own eyes are the things that are proven and true.

        • Bill From Boca

          Um… it was three-fifths, not two-thirds… and it was a political compromise to negate the advantage the southern states had in population. The southern states viewed slaves as property, (as they do in the Bible), so the northern states objected to “property” being counted as a citizens. If you were a slave in America back then… it would have been better for you if you had not been counted at all, because the power of the slave holding states would have been reduced.

  • Prakash

    Any relation to Africans? A case of separate evolution? Is there a common ancestor to those from Africa? Was there a migration from Africa way, way back? What was the climate and geography of that period? Can one presume it was cold back then? A lot of unanswered questions.

  • johndouglasdahl@gmail.com

    did any of you see a footprint ? i don’t think i saw any
    in 700K years X 365.24 X 4 (days in 1year, and 2ebbs + 2surge tides per day,) ? think of the odds that those prints were found just in time, only to be washed away with the next tide
    i’m definitely an evolutionist, but ………….. the asumption that any of that was beyond antiquity (is that word even applicable ?) is extraordinary. thank goodness God preserved them for us

    • Cheffy

      They did say it was a one in a million kind of find….

    • Bill From Boca

      The footprints weren’t washed away in the next tide. The mud formed into rock which helped preserve the footprints and the mud/rock can be dated. With the rock’s protective cover gone, natural erosion is taking place.

      • johndouglasdahl@gmail.com

        thnx, that makes more sense; i must have misread. i thought it was just mud, plastic mud that was a little firm which had been covered but over time became exposed to tidal water washing and flowing over it; i didn’t realize it had actually metamorphosed or actually changed its characteristics

  • Lee Dwyer

    I am sure a creationist will say this is obvious evidence that Moses parted the ocean to walk his dinososaurs to get some ancient fish and chips

  • Steve Schaefer

    According to Wikipedia, Archaeology s the study of human activity in the past, primarily through the recovery and analysis of the Material culture and environmental data that they have left behind. The discipline involves surveying, excavation and eventually analysis of data collected to learn more about the past. In broad scope, archaeology relies on cross-disciplinary research. It draws upon anthropology, history, art history, classics, ethnology, geography, Geology, Linguistics, physics, information sciences, chemistry…

    Paleontology focuses on the record of past life but its main source of evidence is fossils, which are found in rocks.

    One thing both fields of sciences rely on is selecting an area of interest and digging up artifacts. The problem with current techniques is that they destroy more information than they reveal. I call these techniques Macro Archeology and Macro Paleontology.

    This short paper will explore a new method of exploration which records some of the formerly destroyed data or Microology.

    The Steps:
    • An area for exploration is defined.
    • Any foliage is removed.
    • A location grid is constructed
    • Once the grid is defined, the Microology Extraction Unit is positioned over the section. This unit is designed to traverse the area in the same way a 3D print head works (Left to Right, Top to Bottom). The difference is that instead of depositing a small amount of material to on an object, the Extraction Unit measures the density and extracts a small amount of Material from the area.
    • The probe is moved from left to right and forward in uniform steps; as a printer head moves cross and down a piece of paper. The goal here is to measure the relative density of a small ample of the area under test. Density of soil/rock can be calculated by the deflection of the Spring-loaded hollow probe as it is pressed against the material. Probes of different diameters and/or tip materials can be used to adapt the apparatus to various soil/rock types.
    • Once the density is measured it is time to suck a small sample of the material into a spectrometer to determine the chemical composition of the material.
    • The sample composition (e.g. A1, 0001, 0001) is recorded. Once the data is collected (e.g. A1, 0000, 0000 through A1, 1023, 1023), we have what can be described as an X-Ray or MRI like image of the material analyzed.
    • I believe this technique would allow us to see much of the currently destroyed data, In effect, allowing us to see for the first time: skin, scales, and maybe the footprints of our past.

    • Talat

      wow great discovery.

  • Cathy

    looks kinda fishy to me…too squooshed in….like feet in wet concrete…..and no bare feet marks? hmmmmmmm

  • Cathy

    looks kinda fishy to me….

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com Dennis Neiditch

    Wow I wonder if they had any babes back then.

  • quadrill

    This story is LOADED with doubt. How do they know for certain they werent Neaderthals? How do they know anything for sure? The scientists DON”T and they can’t. Oh, the above mentioned beings couldnt have crossed the channel then right ? WRONG ! This is pure bunk that they were just dying to publish to keep us reading there ‘ observations’, to just sell sell sell.
    i LOVE science, but just like politics, me thinks there are far more phonies than legitimates.

    • Bill From Boca

      If the footprints in that ancient mud which solidified into rock are 800,000 -1,000,000 years old… they couldn’t have been Neanderthals because they didn’t emerge until about 100,000-300,000 years ago. And who said anything about not being able to cross the channel? Just how much money do you think they will make from this discovery? They already gave away the photographs for free. If the footprints are eroding… they can’t even setup a tourist trap. Where do you think all this money would come from? Just because you know nothing about science… doesn’t mean that discoveries like this are phony.

      • Stu

        At that time, the English Channel didn’t exist – it was mostly dry land, albeit marshy and boggy. The Channel as is has only been there since relatively recent times (ie post last ice-age) and prior to that South and East England was still contiguous with Northern France and Belgium.

        Eastern England is very vulnerable to coastal erosion. There are a number of former coastal villages that are now a mile or more out to sea – conversely Western England has a number of formerly coastal areas that are now miles inland. Hence the sudden appearance of long-buried stuff in the east courtesy of the sea that is then rapidly submerged again. Happens a lot – it’s just it’s normally Roman / Saxon / Medieval stuff, which is very very common in English archaeology, and therefore not nearly as significant as this.

  • quadrill

    OH! i hate politics…. Has NOTHING to do with science; please excuse the association.

  • David Rutledge

    Well, if you choose to pronounce it that way, I suggest you lose a few letters. Otherwise, I’m going to have to pronounce you French.

  • K C

    It’s strange to read Chris Stringer commenting on early Europeans “tenacity and adaptability” as he acknowledges that these people were continuously faced with a harsh, challenging environment and managed to thrive for hundreds of thousands of years. Stringer’s comments strike me as strange because he is one of the main founders of Recent Out of Africa that he then modified to simply Out of Africa as evidence mounted against his pet hypothesis. In spite of the “tenacity and adaptability” of early Euros, Stringer (and far too many others) believe that a group of “modern humans” left sub Saharan Africa, for the cold, difficult, and alien regions of Europe and Asia a mere 50-100kya where some of them morphed into the wide array of Euros and into Asians. Oh, and this group from Africa also managed to totally replace and out compete virtually every population that had lived in Europe and Asia for thousands or perhaps millions (based on Dmanisi) of years. There’s no logic to this story and whatever “science” has been used to support it is analyzed through the filter of maintaining OOA at all costs; such is the mindset of fanatics not legitimate scientists. It is a hypothesis sparked by a rather ambiguous comment made by Darwin, took root with tunnel visioned, agenda laden Christian missionary Louis Leakey, who was raised in and obsessed with Africa, and finally fueled by a well meaning yet utterly misguided sociopolitical agenda that grew in response to Nazism, scientific racism, and eugenics. This agenda means that supporters of ROOA/OOA are generally more aggressive, hostile and insulting (accusations of racism being their favorite low blow) than any multiregionalist you’ll ever meet and a more soundly supported competing theory is likely only mentioned briefly and derisively in American universities.

NEW ON DISCOVER
OPEN
CITIZEN SCIENCE
ADVERTISEMENT

Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

D-brief

Briefing you on the must-know news and trending topics in science and technology today.
ADVERTISEMENT

See More

ADVERTISEMENT
Collapse bottom bar
+

Login to your Account

X
E-mail address:
Password:
Remember me
Forgot your password?
No problem. Click here to have it e-mailed to you.

Not Registered Yet?

Register now for FREE. Registration only takes a few minutes to complete. Register now »