Scientists find 800,000-year-old footprints in U.K.

by AP

alt

Undated handout photo issued by the British Museum on Feb. 7, 2014 of some of the human footprints, thought to be more than 800,000 years old, found in silt on the beach at Happisburgh on the Norfolk coast of England, with a camera lens cap laid beside them to indicate scale.


LONDON (AP) - British scientists have discovered human footprints in England that are at least 800,000 years old - the most ancient found outside Africa, and the earliest evidence of human life in northern Europe.

A team from the British Museum, the Natural History Museum and the University of London uncovered imprints from up to five individuals in ancient estuary mud at Happisburgh on the country's eastern coast.

British Museum archaeologist Nick Ashton said the find - announced Friday and published in the journal PLOS ONE - was "a tangible link to our earliest human relatives."

Preserved in layers of silt and sand for millennia before being exposed by the tide last year, the prints give a vivid glimpse of some of our most ancient ancestors. They are from a group, including at least two children and one adult male. They could be a family foraging on the banks of a river scientists think may be the ancient Thames, beside grasslands where bison, mammoth, hippos and rhinoceros roamed.

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.

Ashton said the footprints are between 800,000 - "as a conservative estimate" - and 1 million years old, at least 100,000 years older than the previous earliest evidence of human habitation in Britain. That's significant because 700,000 years ago, Britain had a warm, Mediterranean-style climate. The earlier period was much colder, similar to modern-day Scandinavia.

Natural History Museum archaeologist Chris Stringer, who is part of the project, said 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," he said.

"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 they have the use of fire that far back?" he asked.

The footprint find will form part of an exhibition, "Britain: One Million Years of the Human Story," opening at the Natural History Museum in London next week.



More Local

Georgia to execute only woman on state's death row

ATLANTA (AP) — The only woman on Georgia's death row is set to be executed Monday. Kelly Renee Gissendaner, who's 46, is set to die at ... Read More


10 Things to Know for Today

Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Monday: 1. FEDS CLOSE TO PUBLISHING FINDING ... Read More


Programs reflect growing diversity in schools

Coweta County – like the rest of Georgia – is growing more diverse, and that is reflected in programs being held in the county&r ... Read More


Eye-catching billboard may help catch killer

When travelling on Interstate 85 north through Fairburn, many motorists have taken notice of Donna “Denice" Roberts’ face on a l ... Read More


Acceptance starts with liking one’s self

“Diversity – it starts with you.” That was the message that keynote speaker Nick Ferrante brought to the Diversity Day pro ... Read More

Tradition dates to 1422 in England

Bankruptcy Inn of Court named to honor Drake

The recently formed Georgia Bankruptcy American Inn of Court has been named for W. Homer Drake Jr. of Newnan. Drake is U.S. Bankruptcy Court ... Read More