Ancient Human Footprints Revealed on Canada’s Shoreline

Digital contrast adjustment (D-stretch) shows the heel and sediment displacement rim parts of the track clearly. (Image: Joanne McSporran.
Digital contrast adjustment (D-stretch) shows the heel and sediment displacement rim parts of the track clearly. (Image: Joanne McSporran.

Human footprints found off Canada’s Pacific coast may be 13,000 years old, according to a study published March 28, 2018 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Duncan McLaren and colleagues from the University of Victoria, Canada.

Humans are believed to have migrated from Eurasia to North America during the last ice age, which ended around 11,700 years ago.

View across the beach at EjTa-4 with Calvert Island in the foreground and Hecate Island in the background. Photo by Jim Stafford.

View across the beach at EjTa-4 with Calvert Island in the foreground and Hecate Island in the background. Photo by Jim Stafford.

One hypothesized entry point is what is now the west coast of British Columbia, Canada, but the densely forested, inaccessible landscape of the area has previously hampered the search for archaeological evidence.

In the new study, McLaren and colleagues conducted excavations of intertidal beach sediments on the shoreline of Calvert Island, British Columbia, where the sea level was several meters lower during the last ice age than it is today.

Drone based aerial photograph of EjTa-4 showing the location of the excavation unit with footprints. Imagery courtesy of the Hakai Institute. The shell midden boundary is based on information provided by Farid Rahemtulla.

Drone-based aerial photograph of EjTa-4 showing the location of the excavation unit with footprints. The shell midden boundary is based on information provided by Farid Rahemtulla. (Image: courtesy of the Hakai Institute)

Accessing the beach by boat, they spent several painstaking years unearthing traces of ancient human activity.

The researchers uncovered 29 human footprints of at least three different sizes in the sediments, and digital analyses suggested that they probably belonged to two adults and a child, all of whom were barefoot.

Photograph of track #17 beside digitally-enhanced image of same feature using the DStretch plugin for ImageJ. Note the toe impressions and arch indicating that this is a right footprint. Photo by Duncan McLaren.

Photograph of track #17 beside digitally-enhanced image of same feature using the DStretch plugin for ImageJ. Note the toe impressions and arch indicating that this is a right footprint. (Image: Duncan McLaren)

Radiocarbon dating estimated the footprints to be around 13,000 years old, meaning that humans were likely present on the west coast of British Columbia as it emerged from the last ice age.

These footprints provide new evidence supporting the hypothesis that humans migrated from Eurasia to North America via British Columbia.

The authors believe that there may well be more human footprints in the area, which could continue to clarify patterns of early human settlement on the North American coast.

Provided by: Public Library of Science [Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.]

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