A series of footprints that were left by early humans over 800,000 years ago have been discovered by a team of scientists led by the British Museum, Natural History Museum and the Queen Mary University of London.

Since most scientists agree that humans and our ancestors originated in Africa and then migrated across the planet, the oldest footprints should therefore also be found in Africa.

Scientists have now made the discovery of the oldest footprints outside of Africa on a beach in eastern England. According to researchers, the findings are the earliest evidence of human life outside the African continent.

The footprints have been estimated to be more than 800,000 years old and were found in a low-lying beach section at Happisburgh in Norfolk, close to Norwich.

The findings have been published in the in the scientific journal PLoS One. With the researchers have studied the footprints since their discovery in May 2013. The sea had then eroded away sand to reveal the distant past beneath. With mud of just the right consistency and with a bit of perfect timing, this equally unlikely as astounding discovery may have a big impact on our understanding of early human migration in Europe and indeed the world.

Dr. Nick Ashton at the British Museum told BBC news; “Initially we were unsure of what we saw. But it soon became clear that the cavities resembling human footprints”. “It will rewrite our understanding of the early human occupation of Britain and indeed of Europe”, he adds.

But who were these human ancestors that made the footprints? The scholars speculate that they may have been related to the people from Atapuerca in Spain, who is believed to have belonged to the species Homo antecessor that went extinct in Europe by 600,000 years ago. Then possibly replaced by Homo Heidelbergensis and later Homo neanderthalensis (Neanderthals) about 400,000 years ago. With Homo Sapiens colonizing Europe about 40,000 years ago.

The researchers were in a hurry since it was just a matter of time before the North Sea were to swallow the whole area again. But not before they had managed to study the footprints and videotape the findings with three-dimensional technology.

The films can be seen at the London’s Natural History Museum. And click this link to view a video of The earliest human footprints outside Africa found in Norfolk, by Natural History Museum.


Hominin Footprints from Early Pleistocene Deposits at Happisburgh, UK