Scientists find 800,000-year-old footprints in UK (Update)

Scientists find 800,000-year-old footprints in UK
Undated handout photo issued by the British Museum Friday Feb. 7, 2014 of some of the human footprints, thought to be more than 800,000 years old, found in silt on the beach at Happisburgh on the Norfolk coast of England, with a camera lens cap laid beside them to indicate scale. (AP Photo/British Museum)

They were a British family on a day out—almost a million years ago.

Archaeologists announced Friday that they have discovered human footprints in England that are between 800,000 and 1 million years old—the most ancient found outside Africa, and the earliest evidence of human life in northern Europe.

A team from the British Museum, London's Natural History Museum and Queen Mary college at the University of London uncovered imprints from up to five individuals in ancient estuary mud at Happisburgh on the country's eastern coast.

British Museum archaeologist Nick Ashton said the discovery—recounted in detail in the journal PLOS ONE—was "a tangible link to our earliest human relatives."

Preserved in layers of silt and sand for hundreds of millennia before being exposed by the tide last year, the prints give a vivid glimpse of some of our most ancient ancestors. They were left by a group, including at least two children and one adult male. They could have been be a family foraging on the banks of a river scientists think may be the ancient Thames, beside grasslands where bison, mammoth, hippos and rhinoceros roamed.

University of Southampton archaeology professor Clive Gamble, who was not involved in the project, said the discovery was "tremendously significant."

"It's just so tangible," he said. "This is the closest we've got to seeing the people.

"When I heard about it, it was like hearing the first line of (William Blake's hymn) 'Jerusalem'—'And did those feet, in ancient time, walk upon England's mountains green?' Well, they walked upon its muddy estuary."

The researchers said the humans who left the footprints may have been related to Homo antecessor, or "pioneer man," whose fossilized remains have been found in Spain. That species died out about 800,000 years ago.

Ashton said the footprints are between 800,000—"as a conservative estimate"—and 1 million years old, at least 100,000 years older than scientists' earlier estimate of the first human habitation in Britain. That's significant because 700,000 years ago, Britain had a warm, Mediterranean-style climate. The earlier period was much colder, similar to modern-day Scandinavia.

Natural History Museum archaeologist Chris Stringer said that 800,000 or 900,000 years ago Britain was "the edge of the inhabited world."

"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 they have the use of fire that far back?" he asked.

Scientists dated the footprints by studying their geological position and from nearby fossils of long-extinct animals including mammoth, ancient horse and early vole.

John McNabb, director of the Center for the Archaeology of Human Origins at the University of Southampton—who was not part of the research team—said the use of several lines of evidence meant "the dating is pretty sound."

Once uncovered, the perishable prints were recorded using sophisticated digital photography to create 3-D images in which it's possible to discern arches of feet, and even toes.

Isabelle De Groote, a specialist in ancient human remains at Liverpool John Moores University who worked on the find, said that from the pattern of the prints, the group of early humans appeared to be "pottering around," perhaps foraging for food.

She said it wasn't too much of a stretch to call it a family.

"These individuals traveling together, it's likely that they were somehow related," she said.

Research at Happisburgh will continue, and scientists are hopeful of finding fossilized remains of the ancient humans, or evidence of their living quarters, to build up a fuller picture of their lives.

The footprint find will form part of an exhibition, "Britain: One Million Years of the Human Story," opening at the Natural History Museum next week.

The footprints themselves, which survived for almost 1 million years, won't be there. Two weeks after they were uncovered, North Sea tides had washed them away.

Explore further

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More information: The Plos ONE paper will appear here:
Journal information: PLoS ONE

© 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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Feb 07, 2014
There were no human beings 800,000 years ago..

Hominid footprints but not human footprints

Feb 07, 2014
Sorry dog you don't get to redefine the word just because you find the idea distasteful.

human (hyo̅o̅′mən)
1. A member of the species Homo sapiens; a human being.
2. A member of any of the extinct species of the genus Homo, such as Homo erectus or Homo habilis, that are considered ancestral or closely related to modern humans.

Feb 07, 2014

Feb 07, 2014
Gonna need better pictures than that. BS for now.

Feb 07, 2014
yes dogbert, you meant to say there were no "modern humans" 800k years ago.

Feb 07, 2014
If the footprints were made along a "tidal estuary" or the "banks of a river", why didn't the water wash them away? Why didn't rain wear them down? It's accepted that bison, hippopotamus, mammoth and rhinoceros foraged there, so why didn't their tracks wear these down? It's like the lie about having discovered 2 billion year old raindrop craters a year or so ago. The New World Order regularly puts out patent falsities to see just how stupid the majority of the "rank and file" are, like the "low speed police chase of the white Bronco with O.J. Simpson inside" or "Dale Earnhardt, sr. dying at the 2001 Dayona 500" or the events of September 11 or "Aron Ralston cutting off his arm to get free of a boulder" or "unknown Senator Barack Obama coming from nowhere, with no political track record, being tapped to give the keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention", or the "2 billion year old raindrops".

Feb 07, 2014
The picture displayed shows even less detail than the 'human' footprints found alongside those of dinosaurs in Glen Rose, TX. These may just as well be artifacts of turbulence in shallow water flowing over freshly deposited silt.

Feb 07, 2014
julian, that is why in science we have this thing called "peer review". if this fails peer review (like Mr Ham's Mt Saint Helen's ridiculous claims have), then it won't be taken seriously (like Mr Ham's Mt St Helen's ridiculous claims.) of course, if you claim the whole world is crazy except you and your friends, then you'll never buy into any of it, i suppose. makes me wonder why you'd bother following science news though - maybe hubris? the 7th deadly sin? i suggest you investigate your own motives before replying. thanks.

Feb 07, 2014
If the footprints were made along a "tidal estuary" or the "banks of a river", why didn't the water wash them away? Why didn't rain wear them down? It's accepted that bison, hippopotamus, mammoth and rhinoceros foraged there, so why didn't their tracks wear these down? It's like the lie about having discovered 2 billion year old raindrop craters a year or so ago
Because, julian, sometimes these things get covered up before they can be washed away.

If you hadnt already decided that your god negates all scientific discovery, your mind would be open to these obvious possibilities.
(like Mr Ham's Mt St Helen's ridiculous claims.)
Anybody see the ham/nye debate from the creation/obliteration museum?

-Pretty embarrassing for mr ham. 'The bible has got to be right because it was written by god.' -is mr hams premise.

Feb 07, 2014
Well mr ham the bible is NOT right so the god who wrote it is either an incompetent or a liar. Or more likely he is a fabrication of incompetents and liars. Kind of like you and your team of fiberglass dino riders eh?

Feb 07, 2014

yes dogbert, you meant to say there were no "modern humans" 800k years ago.

Your statement is true, but so was mine. There were no human beings 800,000 ago.

Feb 07, 2014
800,000 years ago is very much pre-flood, so the ocean was nowhere near those foragers. Also, it looks like this dude had very big feet, and that he was wearing sandals. Something not right here, unless our take on what existed back then is mostly speculative.

Feb 07, 2014

Feb 07, 2014
There were no human beings 800,000 ago
Im SORRY dog but youre STILL wrong.

"1.human being - any living or extinct member of the family Hominidae characterized by superior intelligence, articulate speech, and erect carriage
human, homo, man
hominid - a primate of the family Hominidae
genus Homo - type genus of the family Hominidae
Homo erectus - extinct species of primitive hominid with upright stature but small brain; "Homo erectus was formerly called Pithecanthropus erectus"
Homo soloensis - extinct primitive hominid of late Pleistocene; Java; formerly Javanthropus

Feb 07, 2014
Homo habilis - extinct species of upright East African hominid having some advanced humanlike characteristics
Homo sapiens - the only surviving hominid; species to which modern man belongs; bipedal primate having language and ability to make and use complex tools; brain volume at least 1400 cc
Homo sapiens neanderthalensis, Neandertal, Neandertal man, Neanderthal, Neanderthal man - extinct robust human of Middle Paleolithic in Europe and western Asia
Homo rhodesiensis, Rhodesian man - a primitive hominid resembling Neanderthal man but living in Africa

ETC. WHY do you religionists have this compulsion to CHANGE things? WHY dont you just accept the world the way it is? You think youre GOD or something??

Feb 08, 2014
A team from the British Museum, London's Artless Story Museum adjacents Ruler Mary college at the Academic of London uncovered engraves from up to five creatures in outmoded brook seep at Happisburgh on the circle's eastern coast. this

Feb 08, 2014
The New World Order regularly puts out patent falsities to see just how stupid the majority of the "rank and file" . . .

Who needs stupidity, when you can turn people into delusional paranoid basket-cases?

Feb 08, 2014
Arthur Dent was here...

Feb 08, 2014
The footprints are in 800,000 yr old mud which was recently uncovered by tidal action. But the footprints themselves don't carry dating information, only the mud and nearby fossils.

Isn't it possible that there was a layer of 800,000 yr old mud that was covered long ago, and that, say, 1000 years ago it was uncovered by tidal action, and a group of Britons walked across it, it was covered-up again, and just recently it was uncovered again before being washed away?

Feb 09, 2014
I agree chaps. Now what I think would be NEWS is if they found a human foot, bones that is, alongside of a T. Rex and same age too ha ha. Mud...footrpint...(yawn)

Feb 09, 2014
It doesn't matter if it was 800,000 years ago, or yesterday. Any ancient ancestor of Humans is *still* human by definition. It's all part of the same lineage.

No. By your reasoning, every common ancestor back to the first bacteria is human.

Human beings are human. Other creatures are not.

Feb 09, 2014
Human beings are human. Other creatures are not
Ok dog lets use the dog as an example. All dogs are related. All dogs can interbreed. You may favor one breed over another. You may consider a chiwawa more a type of rodent for instance but that wouldn't alter the fact that they are dogs.

You do realize that your refusal to accept other humans, including extinct divergent forms you have never seen and are wholly unfamiliar with, as human, is only an expression of your latent bigotry?

You have no idea what these people are, you've never met one or talked to one or seen one walking down the street; you've only seen speculative reconstructions of them in mags and on science sites. Science tells you that they are every bit as human as you are and yet you are so quick to label them 'creatures'. Why?

Who else would you want to call a creature dog? Who else do you consider sub-human if it weren't so politically incorrect?

Compulsive bigotry is the only explanation for your opinion. Tsk

Feb 09, 2014
You also must realize dog that this opinion if yours, in today's parlance, could be considered 'sub-human' itself.

But don't feel bad, being human is a constant struggle between the creature within all of us and our higher selves.

Here, maybe this will cheer you up

Feb 14, 2014
Compulsive bigotry is the only explanation for your opinion. Tsk

Don't discount blind religious faith. If you were repeatedly told as a child that man was created separately and given dominion over all the animals, you might hold tightly to that myth of superiority as an adult to bolster your fragile ego.

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