Scientists believe they’ve found three sets of 13,000-year-old human footprints on the shoreline of Calvert Island, B.C. The markings are thought to be the earliest ever discovered in North America.
The finding suggests humans from Asia travelled into North America using the Pacific coastline, not by walking through the interior, reported the Toronto Star.
“This provides evidence that people were inhabiting the region at the end of the last ice age,” said Duncan McLaren, an anthropologist at the Hakai Institute and the University of Victoria in British Columbia and lead author of the study. “It is possible that the coast was one of the means by which people entered the Americas at that time.”
McLaren and his team, which included members of the Heiltsuk First Nation and Wuikinuxv First Nation, were digging for sediments on the beach when they noticed the footprints. The area is only accessible by boat and is surrounded by thick forests and wet, muddy ground.
Around 11,000 to 14,000 years ago towards the end of the last ice age, the sea level was six to 10 feet lower. The footprints were probably made in a spot just above the high tide line by seafarers who used boats to “get around, gather and hunt for food and live and explore the islands,” noted McLaren.
The researchers found the first footprint in 2014. They returned to the area in 2015 and 2016 and discovered additional, different sized footprints. It’s possible the footprints, 29 in total, belonged to two adults and a child who weren’t wearing shoes.
The footprints appear to have been preserved after they were made on clay and then filled with sand, thick gravel and the second layer of clay. Radiocarbon dating revealed they are 13,000 years old.
While the footprints themselves are rare, the age of the site is also incredible. “It suggests an early entrance into the Americas,” noted archeologist Michael Petraglia from Germany’s Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, who edited the paper McLaren and his team published in the journal PLOS One.
It’s unclear who the footprints belonged to. While the Clovis people appeared in North America around the same time, the stone tools unearthed on Calvert Island were not made by this group of people, according to McLaren.