Tuesday, February 25, 2014

800,000-YEAR-OLD Human Footprints Found in Norfolk

This certainly establishes the antiquity of pioneering primates outside of Africa.  It also pretty well assures us of as yet unconfirmed presence throughout Asia.  They hunted and gathered of course and likely followed the herds as we have often seen.

They also established a natural breeding stock when new advanced strains of humanity emerged.

At this point we have suggestive conforming footprints of course and scant fossil evidence if any for which we must wait.  At least we know that looking at bone beds may well surprise.  I do not think anything like a village existed then but the leap from rock shelter, to lean-to to a group of shacks is slight.

Article created on Friday, February 7, 2014

The oldest human footprints ever found outside Africa, left in a muddy river estuary 800,000 years ago, have been discovered in Norfolk by scientists from the British Museum and other national museums and universities.

The prints were left by a small group of people heading south across the estuary at Happisburgh, through a landscape where mammoths, hippos and rhinoceros grazed. Scientists believe they were a group of adults and children, including one with a foot size the equivalent of a modern size 8 shoe, suggesting a man about 1.7 metres (5ft 7ins) tall.

The footprints are the first direct evidence of the earliest known humans in northern Europe, previously revealed only by the stone tools and animal bones they left scattered.

Within a fortnight of the discovery last May, the sea tides that had exposed the footprints destroyed them, on one of the fastest eroding parts of the East Anglian coast. However, Nick Ashton of the British Museum and other scientists managed to record them before they vanished, including taking casts of some of the best-preserved prints.

“This is an extraordinarily rare discovery,” Ashton said. “The Happisburgh site continues to rewrite our understanding of the early human occupation of Britain and indeed of Europe.”

As winter storms batter the coast, the scientists hope that further erosion may expose more footprints.

Last May, when the sea scoured away a layer of beach sand and exposed the prints, the scientists immediately believed the long oval hollows were from a prehistoric layer. “At first we weren’t sure what we were seeing,” Ashton said, “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.”

Photogrammetry, which combines photographs to create a 3D image, confirmed that they were indeed footprints, perhaps of five individuals. Some were clear enough to show heel, arch and toes – allowing an estimate of the height of the individuals at 0.9-1.7 metres.

The footprints were dated from the geology, lying beneath later glacial deposits and the fossil remains of extinct animals, which Simon Parfitt, of the Natural History Museum, has identified as including mammoth, an extinct type of horse and an early form of vole.

On the day the small group walked across the wet mud, Britain was still joined to continental Europe. Their river valley, surrounded by coniferous forest, with saltmarsh and freshwater pools, offered a rich variety of food, including edible plants and seaweed, shellfish and animals for meat.

So far no fossil remains of the humans have been found. Chris Stringer, of the Natural History Museum, an expert on early man, believes they were related to people from Atapuerca in Spain described as Homo antecessor, pioneer man. He believes they became extinct in Europe, perhaps replaced by another early human species, Homo heidelbergensis, then by Neanderthals from around 400,000 years ago and finally by modern humans.

The oldest hominid prints ever found, at Laetoli in Tanzania, are about 3.5 million years old, while those found at Lleret in Kenya in 2009 – of people who seem to have walked erect and with a similar gait to modern humans – have been dated to around 1.5 million years ago.

The Norfolk tracks are more than twice the age of the previous oldest found in Europe. Those, left in volcanic ash in the Campanian plain of southern Italy, were nicknamed the Devil’s Footprints because they appeared to the modern residents to have been left in solid rock, and have been dated to around 345,000 years.

The oldest footprints in the Americas – some found in the Mexican desert in 1961, followed by further examples discovered last year – are dated to about 10,500 years.

The Happisburgh project has been running for more than 10 years. The discoveries of the team form part of a new exhibition opening next week at the Natural History Museum, Britain: One Million Years of the Human Story.

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