Ancient footprints saved despite being washed away thanks to 3D mapping

Archaeologists have discovered some of the oldest human footprints in the world during a dig on a beach on the Norfolk coast. The prints, thought to be more than 900,000 years old, were found in silt on the beach at Happisburgh. Scientists believe the prints, which were probably made by five different people, are direct evidence of the earliest known humans in northern Europe.

In May 2013, a storm uncovered these ancient footprints on an English beach. At over 800,000 years old, they’re the oldest human ancestor footprints ever found outside of Africa. The storm that revealed them soon washed them away too, but scientists have been studying the footprints for months after the fact, thanks to 3D imaging. Over the past decade, heavy winter storms have heavily eroded the sand, silt and gravel that form the coastline near Happisburg, UK. This erosion exposed these ancient footprints in a long-covered layer of laminated silt, which archaeologists coincidentally stumbled upon during a low tide survey of the area. From that moment, it was a race against time: continued stormy weather and the beating tide were continually wearing away the evidence.

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