Bombshell Discovery: Million-Year-Old Hominid Footprints in England

The oldest preserved hominid footprints found outside of Africa have been found, and push back the date for a hominid presence in England to almost a million years ago.  I’ll just get out of the way and let the Independent tell you the news:

Extraordinary new evidence of Britain’s first human inhabitants has been discovered in Norfolk. Around 50 footprints, made by members by an early species of prehistoric humans almost a million years ago, have been revealed by coastal erosion near the village of Happisburgh, in Norfolk, 17 miles north-east of Norwich.

In Britain, the oldest footprint discoveries prior to the Norfolk finds, had dated from just 7,500 years ago, a tiny fraction of the age of the newly revealed examples.

The discovery – made by a team of experts from the British Museum, the Natural History Museum and Queen Mary University of London – is one of the most important archaeological discoveries ever made in Britain and is of great international significance, as the footprints are the first of such great age ever found outside Africa. Indeed even there, only a few other examples have ever come to light – all in Kenya and Tanzania.

The Happisburgh prints appear to have been made by a small group, perhaps a family, of early humans, probably belonging to the long-extinct Hominid species Homo antecessor (‘Pioneer Man’). Archaeologists are now analysing detailed 3D images of the prints to try to work out the approximate composition of the group. Of the 50 or so examples recorded, only around a dozen were reasonably complete – and only two showed the toes in detail. Tragically, although a full photogrammetric and photographic record has been made, all but one of the prints were rapidly destroyed by incoming tides before they could be physically lifted.

It’s a long, detailed article and you should read the whole thing.

Just to be clear, this is not a “human ancestor,” so to speak, but an early member of the same genus as anatomically modern humans (Homo sapiens). The genus may have emerged a couple million years ago, but the relationship among the various members of the genus is educated guesswork given the scant physical evidence available. We have no clue how Homo antecessor and Homo sapiens are related, if at all, and the speciation of hominids is still vigorously debated.