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Earliest Evidence Of Human Footprints Outside Africa Discovered

Update Date: Feb 07, 2014 09:40 AM EST

Scientists have discovered more than 800,000 years old human footprints outside Africa, on the Norfolk Coast in the East of England. 

The footprints are direct evidence of the earliest known humans in northern Europe. 

Researchers described the footprints as "one of the most important discoveries, if not the most important discovery that has been made on [Britain's] shores."

"It will rewrite our understanding of the early human occupation of Britain and indeed of Europe," said Dr Nick Ashton of the British Museum to BBC News.

"At the time, I wondered 'could these really be the case? If it was the case, these could be the earliest footprints outside Africa and that would be absolutely incredible." 

The discovery which is being considered as rare, was first made in May last year during a low tide. Rough seas eroded the sandy beach revealing a series of elongated hollows.

"At first, we weren't sure what we were seeing," Dr Ashton said, "but it was soon clear that the hollows resembled human footprints."

The markings were unfortunately washed away not long after they were identified, however the team was able to capture the footprints on video. The video is scheduled to be shown at an exhibition at London's Natural History Museum this month.

The team also took the 3D scan of the footprints. The detailed analysis confirmed by experts said that the hollows were indeed human footprints that consisted five people, one adult male and some children. 

"When I was told about the footprints, I was absolutely stunned," Dr De Groote told BBC News.

"They appear to have been made by one adult male who was about 5ft 9in (175cm) tall and the shortest was about 3ft. The other larger footprints could come from young adult males or have been left by females. The glimpse of the past that we are seeing is that we have a family group moving together across the landscape."

Details of the discovery have been published in the science journal Plos One.

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