Monday, 10 February 2014

Happisburgh footprints

And did those feet in ancient time...

Ancient footprints have been found preserved in mud on the beach at Happisburgh (pronounced Hazeboro), a run-down north-east Norfolk coastal town that is gradually falling into the sea. They had been made by nearly-humans almost a million years ago, and are the oldest hominin tracks outside of Africa.
Who were these people? What did they look like? What were they thinking as they squelched through the sand and mud? Were they happy?
Although we'll never know for certain, we can surmise that the prints appear to have been made by a family unit - perhaps two adults, and three or four children. The adults don't appear to be very large - around five feet six inches in height - if length of stride and size of footprint is anything to go by. And although it seems likely that they would have been scavenging for food, the random nature of the prints indicate the possibility that they could have been larking about as well. Maybe they had some kind of pre-historic beach ball that they entertained themselves with.
It seems almost miraculous to us that something so transient as a footprint should last so long, and that the only thing that remained of those people was the empty space beneath their feet, which we homo sapiens were able to measure, photograph and record, all these hundreds of thousands of years later.

And when the tide rolled in a few days afterwards and washed the prints away, it seemed fitting that the same elements which had preserved them for so long in the first place would be the ones to finally destroy them.

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