February 7, 2014
Scientists Find 800,000-Year-Old Human Footprints On Norfolk Beach
Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
Scientists have discovered the oldest human footprints ever found in Europe on a Norfolk beach.
Archaeologists, publishing a paper in the journal PLOS ONE, say they found the footprints while working at an excavation site in Happisburgh, UK along the Norfolk coast. The team said the prints consist of about five individuals who lived more than 800,000 years ago. According to the study, these prints provide direct evidence of the earliest known humans in northern Europe.
The prints were exposed at low tide as heavy seas washed away beach sands. After discovering the prints, the researchers took photographs before they were eroded away. The team then created a 3D model of the surface area. The model revealed that the prints were made by both adults and children, and were most likely of a family group.
Some prints revealed the heel, arch and even toes, helping the team to determine that some of the larger feet were about a size 10. In most human populations, foot length is approximately 15 percent of an individuals’ height, so the team estimated that the individuals stood between 3-feet and 5-feet, 7-inches.
“These people were of a similar height to us and were fully bipedal,” Professor Chris Stringer, from the Natural History Museum of London, said in a statement. “They seem to have become extinct in Europe by 600,000 years ago and were perhaps replaced by the species Homo heidelbergensis. Neanderthals followed from about 400,000 years ago.”
The area being excavated is one of the richest palaeo-archaeological sites in Europe, helping to discover pollen, mammalian fossils and stone tools. Researchers working in this area have even excavated a jawbone from an extinct giant beaver. These discoveries have helped scientists shape what the ancient landscape would have looked like. During this time, Britain was still linked to Europe by land, so the site would have been floodplain several miles from the coast, home to deer, bison and rhino.
“This is an extraordinarily rare discovery. The Happisburgh site continues to rewrite our understanding of the early human occupation of Britain and indeed of Europe,” Dr Nick Ashton, of the British Museum, said in a statement.
This ancient site would have provided early humans with edible plant tubers, seaweed and shellfish. Stringer said that the humans who made the footprints may very well have been related to people of similar antiquity from Atapuerca in Spain.