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800 thousand years ago human footprints from England are the oldest in Europe

The oldest human footprints ever discovered in Europe have been found in England. These are the first human footprints outside Africa. Five people, who lived around 800,000 years ago, imprinted their feet in the mud on the shore of an ancient estuary at Happisburgh, north-east Norfolk.

800 thousand years ago human footprints from England are the oldest in Europe
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Perhaps it was a simple British family on some random day 800,000 years ago, but the footprints of up to five people imprinted in the mud of an ancient estuary of Happisburgh, on the coast eastern part of the country are the oldest human footprints ever observed in Europe, the first evidence of human life on the old continent and the first ever found outside of Africa.

“At first we didn't know what we were seeing,” explained at the time of the discovery Dr. Nick Ashton of the British Museum. “But as we removed the sand residue, it was clear that the cavities resembled footprints and that we needed to analyze the surface as quickly as possible.”

In Ashton's opinion, the discovery, detailed in 2014 in the journal Plos ONE ( is the tangible link to our earliest human relatives.

The importance of these footprints lies in the rarity of this type of discovery.

The discovery

The footprints were located a few meters from the ancient artificial defenses installed in 1953 to stem flooding and coastal erosion.

The defenses were built almost close to the footprints, with the risk of easily destroying them. Instead, the defenses largely protected them. The footprints were preserved by a layer of silt and sand for hundreds of thousands of years before being exposed to the tide.

Before the footprints were destroyed by the sea, the team used some advanced imaging equipment to capture three-dimensional photographs and scan the tracks in the rock. Probably many more footprints and archaeological clues have been irretrievably lost in the area as severe storms and storm surges devastated the Norfolk coast.

But whose footprints were those?

The footprints open a small rift in time, allowing us to see 'live' the traces of our most ancient ancestors. Probably, they were left by a group of people, including at least two children and an adult male. It may have been a family engaged in gathering vegetables near the river.

800 thousand years ago human footprints from England are the oldest in Europe
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The footprints may be between one million and 800,000 years old, at least 100,000 years older than scientists' estimate of the first human settlement in Britain. This is significant, as it means that Britain had a Mediterranean-style climate 700,000 years ago.

The footprints may be related to Homo Antecessor, an extinct species of hominid dating back to between 1.2 million and 800 thousand years ago, considered an intermediate phase between Homo Georgicus and Homo Heidelbergensis. The best preserved fossil find is a jaw belonging to an individual of about 10 years old and found in Atapuerca in Spain.

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