Video and new images: Earliest evidence of human footprints outside of Africa are discovered in Happisburgh, north Norfolk

Happisburgh footprints. Photograph by Martin Bates Happisburgh footprints. Photograph by Martin Bates

Friday, February 7, 2014
4:19 PM

The earliest evidence of human footprints outside Africa have been discovered in Happisburgh, it has been revealed today.

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Happisburgh footprints. Photograph by Martin BatesHappisburgh footprints. Photograph by Martin Bates

A series of 800,000-year-old footprints left by early humans was uncovered by a team of scientists in May 2013 in the ancient estuary mud.

They were exposed at low tide as the sea washed away sand to reveal long hollows cut into the compacted silts.

The prints ranged in size, and scientists say they were from adults and children — in some cases the heel, arch and toes could be identified, the size of a modern UK seven or eight.

The discovery has been announced as part of a new exhibition at the National History Museum.

Happisburgh footprints. Photograph by Martin BatesHappisburgh footprints. Photograph by Martin Bates

“At first we weren’t sure what we were seeing,” said Dr Nick Ashton from the British Museum, “but as we removed any remaining beach sand and sponged off the seawater, it was clear that the hollows resembled prints, perhaps human footprints, and that we needed to record the surface as quickly as possible before the sea eroded it away.”

Over the next two weeks the surface was recorded using photogrammetry, a technique to stitch together digital photographs to create a permanent record and 3D images of the surface.

It was this analysis that confirmed that the elongated hollows were ancient human footprints, perhaps of five individuals.

Dr Ashton said: “This is an extraordinarily rare discovery.

“The Happisburgh site continues to re-write our understanding of the early human occupation of Britain and indeed of Europe”.

The footprints were discovered by a team of scientists from the British Museum, Natural History Museum and Queen Mary University of London.

The work at Happisburgh forms part of a new major exhibition at the Natural History Museum Britain: One Million Years of the Human Story opening on 13 February.

A special on the exhibition will appear in tomorrow’s Eastern Daily Press.



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