Oldest human footprints yet discovered in North America found in British Columbia
Fossilized footprints discovered on Calvert Island, off the coast of British Columbia in Canada, could be more than 13,000 years old, making them the oldest footprints every discovered in North America.
The footprints were discovered below the shoreline on Calvert Island, a remote island off the coast of central British Columbia. The island can only be visited by boat or a seaplane. The first footprint on the site was discovered in April 2014. It was found pressed into grey clay beneath other layers of sediment. This discovery prompted the team of archaeologists, drawn from a number of locations including the University of Victoria, Hakai Institute and Heiltsuk and Wuikinuxv First Nations, to return to the site in May to conduct a longer and more extensive excavation. On this occasion, 12 other footprints were discovered, believed to be those of a man, woman and child.
Beach on Calvert Island, British Columbia Coast, Canada ( Wikimedia Commons )
The footprints are estimated to be at least 13,000 years old, making them 800 years older than others found nearby in a cave on Haida Gwaii.
Evidence of an ancient campfire was also found nearby, within a hearth of rocks, consisting of a pile of ash and soot. Radiocarbon dating indicates these remains could be around 13,200 years old. A stone tool was also found near the fire.
“We're very excited about it” archaeologist Duncan McLaren told the Kelown Daily Courier . “We figure that at some point people were hanging out around this fire. They left their footprints in the grey clay and then they were subsequently filled by this black sand, which essentially preserved the footprints. It shows that this place we inhabit has a long history.”
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Mr McLaren added that very often the history of Canada and North America is represented as being fairly recent, however the archaeology shows that in fact the history of the Americas goes back a very long way indeed. McLaren was working as part of a larger research team. While the coast of British Columbia’s Lower Mainland and Haida Gwaii has risen and fallen over time, the coast of Calvert Island has remained relatively stable, thereby enabling the archaeologists to investigate that has been relatively unaffected by changing climatic conditions.
Haida Gwaii islands, where ancient footprints have also been found ( Wikimedia Commons )
McLaren says that the results need to be confirmed by conducting more tests, particularly as other items found on the site are only 2,000 years old. The find is particularly important as previously it was thought that migrants travelled by land from Alaska, but this discovery suggests they may have arrived in North America by boat instead. Some experts think that both land and sea routes were used.
Ancient human footprints are rare, known from only 65 sites across the world, according to Martin Lockley, director of the Dinosaur Trackers Research Group at the University of Colorado. In July 2014 , a study revealing the discovery of human footprints in a Romanian cave was published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology. Those footprints were more than 35,000 years old. They were found in the Ciur-Izbuc cave in the Carpathian Mountains. Beneath them, the archaeologists discovered a number of cave bear bones and it was these that helped to date the footprints backwards beyond the initial estimate.
Footprint found in They were found in the Ciur-Izbuc cave in the Carpathian Mountains. ( World Archaeology )
Another discovery , in England, consisted of footprints that were over 800,000 years old and believed to belong to a human predecessor known as Homo antecessor. These footprints were older than many of those discovered in the so-called cradle of human civilisation in Africa.
Featured image: One of the newly discovered footprints. (Photo credit: Joanne McSporran)