LONDON (AP) — Archaeologists discovered 800,000-year-old footprints in England, a team from the British Museum, London’s Natural History Museum and the University of London announced Friday. The prints, from as many as five different people, signify the earliest evidence to date of human life in northern Europe.
The researchers published their work in the journal PLOS One.
British Museum archaeologist Nick Ashton said the finding was “a tangible link to our earliest human relatives.”
Preserved in layers of silt and sand for hundreds of millennia before being exposed by the tide last year, the prints give a vivid glimpse of some of our most ancient ancestors. They were left by a group, including at least two children and one adult male. They could have been 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.
University of Southampton archaeology professor Clive Gamble, who was not involved in the project, said the discovery was “tremendously significant.” “It’s just so tangible,” he said. “This is the closest we’ve got to seeing the people.”
“When I heard about it, it was like hearing the first line of [William Blake’s hymn] ‘Jerusalem’ — ‘And did those feet, in ancient time, walk upon England’s mountains green?’ Well, they walked upon its muddy estuary.”
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.
(MORE: 9 Lost Cities that Were Rediscovered)
Ashton said the footprints are between 800,000 — “as a conservative estimate” — and 1 million years old, at least 100,000 years older than scientists’ earlier estimate of the first 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 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 the use of fire that far back?” he asked.
Scientists dated the footprints by studying their geological position and from nearby fossils of long-extinct animals including mammoth, ancient horse and early vole.
John McNabb, director of the Center for the Archaeology of Human Origins at the University of Southampton, who was not part of the research team, said the use of several lines of evidence meant “the dating is pretty sound.”
Once uncovered, the perishable prints were recorded using sophisticated digital photography to create 3-D images in which it’s possible to discern arches of feet, and even toes.
Isabelle De Groote, a specialist in ancient human remains at Liverpool John Moores University who worked on the find, said that from the pattern of the prints, the group of early humans appeared to be “pottering around,” perhaps foraging for food. She said it wasn’t too much of a stretch to call it a family. “These individuals traveling together, it’s likely that they were somehow related,” she said.
Research at Happisburgh will continue, and scientists are hopeful of finding fossilized remains of the ancient humans, or evidence of their living quarters, to build up a fuller picture of their lives.
The footprint find will form part of an exhibition, “Britain: One Million Years of the Human Story,” opening at the Natural History Museum next week.
The footprints themselves, which survived for almost 1 million years, won’t be there. Two weeks after they were uncovered, North Sea tides had washed them away.
-------------------- It isn't so much that liberals are ignorant. It's just that they know so many things that aren't so. Posts: 6946 | Registered: Apr 2004
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I've suspected i was related to these guys for along time, now i know:
At least 20% of Neanderthal DNA Is in Humans By Charles Q. Choi, LiveScience Contributor | January 29, 2014 01:04pm ET
Ancient DNA research is increasingly revealing the genetic links between modern humans and our extinct ancestors, including Neanderthals and the mysterious Denisovans. Credit: Neanderthal Museum (Mettmann, Germany) View full size image
At least one-fifth of the Neanderthal genome may lurk within modern humans, influencing the skin, hair and diseases people have today, researchers say.
Although modern humans are the only surviving human lineage, other groups of early humans used to live on Earth. The closest extinct relatives of modern humans were the Neanderthals, who lived in Europe and Asia until they went extinct about 40,000 years ago. The ancestors of modern humans diverged from those of Neanderthals between 550,000 and 765,000 years ago.
Recent findings revealed that Neanderthals interbred with ancestors of modern humans when modern humans began spreading out of Africa perhaps about 40,000 to 80,000 years ago, although some research suggests the migration began earlier. About 1.5 to 2.1 percent of the DNA of anyone outside Africa is Neanderthal in origin. http://www.livescience.com/42933-humans-carry-20-percent-neanderthal-genes.html
i think i'll go chip a few more arrowheads
seriously? a prepensity to smoke is apparently also inherited from neanderthals... who'da thunkit?
i bet we roll back our estimation of the age of "civilization" by about 30,000 years within the next decade or two....
Carbon isotope analysis of charcoal used in pictures of horses at Chauvet, south-central France, show that they are 30,000 years old, a discovery that should prompt a rethink about the development of art.
The remarkable Chauvet drawings were discovered in 1994 when potholers stumbled upon a narrow entrance to several underground chambers in a rocky escarpment in the Ardeche region.
Because the paintings are just as artistic and complex as the later Lascaux paintings, it may indicate that art developed much earlier than had been realised.
The analysis was performed by Helene Valladas and colleagues at the Laboratory for Climate and Environment Studies at France's CEA-CNRS research centre at Gif-sur-Yvette.
The prehistoric cave art found in France and Spain shows ancient man to be a remarkable artist.
When Pablo Picasso visited the newly-discovered Lascaux caves, in the Dordogne, in 1940, he emerged from them saying of modern art, "We have discovered nothing".
-------------------- Don't envy the happiness of those who live in a fool's paradise. Posts: 36378 | From: USA | Registered: Sep 2003
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