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800,000-year-old footprints in England: 5 human footprints include 2 children

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The 800,000-year-old footprints in England, which were found in an ancient estuary mud, are “the earliest evidence of human life in northern Europe” and indicate that a group of people consisting of at least five people, including two children and one male, were walking along England’s eastern coast between 800,000 and one million years ago, reported The Washington Times on Feb. 7, 2014.

“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.”

The footprints of the group of people, believed to be a family, was discovered at Happisburgh on England’s eastern coast by a team from the British Museum, London's Natural History Museum and Queen Mary college at the University of London.

The discovery and specifics of the 800-year-old footprints were published on Feb. 7, 2014, in the journal PLOS ONE.

“In May 2013 extensive areas of the laminated sediments were exposed on the foreshore. On the surface of one of the laminated silt horizons a series of hollows was revealed in an area of ca. 12 m2. The surface was recorded using multi-image photogrammetry which showed that the hollows are distinctly elongated and the majority fall within the range of juvenile to adult hominin foot sizes. In many cases the arch and front/back of the foot can be identified and in one case the impression of toes can be seen. Using foot length to stature ratios, the hominins are estimated to have been between ca. 0.93 and 1.73 m in height, suggestive of a group of mixed ages. The orientation of the prints indicates movement in a southerly direction on mud-flats along the river edge.”

For hundreds of millennia, the family’s footprints were preserved in layers of silt and sand until the tide exposed them last year.

Scientists believe that the group of people could have been a family foraging on the banks of the ancient river Thames where bison, mammoth, hippos, and rhinoceros roamed at the time.

“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.”

According to British Museum archaeologist Nick Ashton, Britain had a warm, Mediterranean-style climate 700,000 years ago. However, 800,000 years ago, the country’s climate was much colder, similar to modern-day Scandinavia.

Natural History Museum archaeologist Chris Stringer commented 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. 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 had the use of fire that far back?”

The 800,000-year-old footprints found in England are a significant archaeological discovery because it is extending the record of human occupation in northern Europe by at least 350,000 years.

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