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Oldest set of footprints outside of Africa discovered in UK

View of footprint surface looking north. b. View of footprint surface looking south, also showing underlying horizontally bedded laminated silts.
Photos: Simon Parfitt.

The oldest footprints outside of Africa have been located on the Norfolk Coast in East England. BBC News reports on Feb. 7 that these footprints date back 800,000 years and show evidence of the earliest known humans in northern Europe.

Dr. Nick Ashton of the British Museum told BBC that this discovery “will rewrite our understanding of the early human occupation of Britain and indeed of Europe.”

The prints were revealed last May during a low tide. Erosion over time revealed a series of the prints that showed as elongated hollowed sections in the sandy beach.

What makes this discovery incredibly rare is that these are the only footprints this old to ever be found outside of Africa. Even in Africa, there are only three other sets to have ever been found.

The footprints don’t even exist now. Not long after they were discovered, they were washed away. However Dr. Ashion and his tea were able to record video of the prints. This video has earned a spot in London’s Natural History Museum and will be exhibited later this month.

Over the period of two weeks, the team took 3-D scans of the prints. Despite having to deal with rainwater as well as tide, the scans were successful. They were then sent to be analyzed by a specialist who confirmed the prints were indeed made by humans. It is thought the prints belong to as many five people, one being an adult male. The rest are considered to belong to children.

So far, one suggestion believes the prints belong to a species called ‘Homo antecessor.’ These people might have crossed into modern-day Norfolk over a strip of land that connected the UK to the rest of Europe.

There are no fossils of the antecessor in the area, but other clues are proving that they did exist there at some point. In 2010 the same team discovered tools used by this species.