Oldest Footprints outside of Africa

Oldest human footprints outside Africa discovered in England

(Read the article on one page)

Archaeologists have just announced the discovery of the earliest footprints left by humans outside Africa in estuary mud in England, in a finding that has been described as ‘the most important discovery on British shores’.  The ancient human footprints are direct evidence of the earliest known humans in Europe.

In a chance encounter which has been described as a “million to one” discovery, the footprints were only found after being exposed by low sea tides when heavy waves washed away much of the beach sand.  Scientists rushed to take photographs and moulds of them before they disappeared once again. 

"We found them by pure chance in May last year," writes Nicholas Ashton, a curator at the British Museum in London. "We knew the sediments at Happisburgh were over 800,000 years old," says Ashton. So if the hollows turned out to be footprints, they would be older than anything outside of the cradle of humanity, Africa.

According to the research report, published yesterday in the journal PLOS ONE, the prints were probably made by five different people, both adults and children, and show distinct heel, arch and toe marks.  Using 3D computer reconstruction, the researchers were even able to estimate the height and weight of the owners.  Heights among the group topped out at about 5.6 feet.

Oldest Footprints Out of Africa - Happisburgh Project

Scientists created this model of the footprints using photgrammetric survey data. Photo credit .

"We actually know very little else about the people who left these prints," Ashton says. However, height estimates lead scientists to believe that the prints may have been made by a 1.2 million-year-old species known as Homo antecessor. Only three other sets of footprints, discovered in Africa, are more ancient than these ones.

The footprints might help scientists understand how some of our early human predecessors made their way in the ancient world. Christ Stringer, Natural History Museum archaeologists, said that 800,000 to 900,000 years ago Britain was at “the edge of the inhabited world”.  He added, “this makes us rethink our feelings about the capacity of these early people”.

Dr Martin Bates, a geoarchaeologists from the University of Wales, describes what the discovery meant to him:

“Standing there looking at the footprints really brought the intimacy of who these human ancestors were to me. As a geoarchaeologist I tend to get divorced from the human side of archaeology sometimes. With a footprint you can see what they were doing and look in the direction they were looking. I was confronting these individuals as humans.”

Watch a video of the operation to record the prints before they became lost once again.

Featured image: An archaeologist examining the exposed footprints. Photo credit: Martin Bates .

By April Holloway


A woman did her thesis on the differences of foot bones in various "tribes" of Briton. It was called "Foot Loose in Great Britain". She actually found that one could distinguish between Anglo and Saxon skeletons by the bones of the foot! I wonder if that information could be applied to these casts?

Justbod's picture

What an evocative find!

Fascinating and nice that something good has come out of the storms and floods.

Sculptures, carvings & artwork inspired by a love of history & nature: www.justbod.co.uk




Register to become part of our active community, get updates, receive a monthly newsletter, and enjoy the benefits and rewards of our member point system OR just post your comment below as a Guest.

Related Ancient Origins Articles

Our Mission

At Ancient Origins, we believe that one of the most important fields of knowledge we can pursue as human beings is our beginnings. And while some people may seem content with the story as it stands, our view is that there exists countless mysteries, scientific anomalies and surprising artifacts that have yet to be discovered and explained.

The goal of Ancient Origins is to highlight recent archaeological discoveries, peer-reviewed academic research and evidence, as well as offering alternative viewpoints and explanations of science, archaeology, mythology, religion and history around the globe.

We’re the only Pop Archaeology site combining scientific research with out-of-the-box perspectives.

By bringing together top experts and authors, this archaeology website explores lost civilizations, examines sacred writings, tours ancient places, investigates ancient discoveries and questions mysterious happenings. Our open community is dedicated to digging into the origins of our species on planet earth, and question wherever the discoveries might take us. We seek to retell the story of our beginnings. 

Ancient Image Galleries

View from the Castle Gate (Burgtor). (Public Domain)
Door surrounded by roots of Tetrameles nudiflora in the Khmer temple of Ta Phrom, Angkor temple complex, located today in Cambodia. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Cable car in the Xihai (West Sea) Grand Canyon (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Next article