Institute of Archaeology

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Extraordinary new evidence of Britain's first human inhabitants

10 February 2014

Earliest human footprints found at Happisburgh, Norfolk

A team, including the Institute's Simon Parfitt, working on the excavation of an archaeological site at Happisburgh, Norfolk, have discovered some of the oldest human footprints in the world.

The very rare discovery, which is published in science journal PlosOne, is one of the most important archaeological finds ever made in Britain as the footprints provide direct evidence of the earliest known humans in northern Europe. Only three other sets of footprints, all discovered in Africa, are more ancient.

The prints, made by members of an early species of prehistoric humans almost a million years ago, were first noticed when uncovered by a low tide. The team were able to capture the footprints (which were washed away shortly after they were identified) on video that will be shown at the new exhibition at the Natural History Museum 'Britain: One Million Years of the Human Story'. The exhibition opens this Thursday, 13 February and runs until 28 September 2014.

Earliest human footprints found at Happisburgh, Norfolk (Image courtesy of Martin Bates)

As Simon Parfitt has indicated about the prints:

  • "The mix of sizes shows that this was probably a family group, rather than a hunting group, who appear to be on some sort of trail..... As well as the footprints, we have also found the remains of substantial numbers of animals...[and] more than 100 types of plant. This is allowing us to reconstruct, in considerable detail, the environment in which these early humans lived."

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3D image gallery

(images courtesy of Sarah Duffy, University of York)

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