Ancient Footprints Found on British Beach May Be Oldest Outside of Africa

Ancient Footprints Found on British Beach May Be Oldest Outside of Africa

Ancient footprints found on British beach may be the oldest outside of Africa to be left by human ancestors, researchers have declared after reviewing 3D images of footprints found in 800,000 year old estuary mud. Nicholas Ashton and associates at the British Museum in London were responsible for the research, carried out via carefully taken photos due to the tumultuous nature of the area where the prints were found. Due to fast-moving tides, heavy rain, and cliffs often in a state of the collapse, the prints were visible for less than a month, with the photos being quickly snapped before the returning tide wiped them from the hardened undersea silt. The photos were enough for the research team to identify what they believe to be the prints of a group of people numbering at least 5 travelling south along the coast. The working theory is that the group consisted of younger proto-humans travelling with parents or guardians, given the differing weights and heights dictated by the differing impressions of the prints.

Images of the prints were saved despite foul weather and poor lighting, and as the research goes on confidence is mounting that these are the oldest prints of human ancestors found outside of Africa, the cradle of modern man. Prints found within Africa date back nearly 4 million years, meaning that although these ancestors were quite developed, they still were not true Homo sapiens, most likely Homo antecessors. The species is known as Pioneer Man and travelled extensively through Europe, but very little else is known about this branch of humanity, other than that they sported slightly smaller brains than ourselves. The tallest of the group travelling along the British estuary is estimated to be 5.6 feet tall, with the shortest being about three feet, likely a child. Ashton and his team hypothesize that the tracks were left by a family unit, likely a male leader with several females and children in tow. The theory that the ancient footprints found on British beach may be the oldest outside of Africa has so far stood up to the researchers scrutiny, and the numbers seem to back it up as well.

The site of the prints discovery has yielded exciting archeological discoveries in the past as well, including stone tools, fossil bones, and mammoth remains. The prints themselves were discovered by pure luck when the retreating tide washed away layers of sand near the shore and exposed the hardened silt below. With the tide returning it was a scramble to record the site before it was too late, but the effort will be worth it as the evidence is mounting that these ancient footprints found on British beach may be the oldest outside of Africa. Homo antecessors are believed to have become extinct in Europe around 600,000 years ago to be replaced by Homo heidelbergensis, and finally Neanderthals about 400,000 years ago. Modern man is believed to have come about 40,000 or so years ago, after interbreeding between Neanderthals and early Homo sapiens.

By Daniel O’Brien

Sources

National Geographic
The Times
The Telegraph

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