In 2014, archaeologists dug into the sand of Calvert Island, British Columbia, when they made an unexpected discovery: a single footprint that seemed to belong to a human and was pressed into the clay below the surface. As reported by Nicholas St. Fleur for the New York Times the team recently announced that subsequent excavations revealed an additional 28 footprints considered to be the oldest human footprints in North America.
A work published in PLOS One researchers write that the footprints are remarkably well preserved; some even have visible bow, toe and heel marks. The prints appear to have been made by at least three people, and due to the size of the tracks, the researchers believe they belonged to two adults and one child. The team was also able to perform radiocarbon dating on sediments and two pieces of preserved wood in the footprints, indicating that the impressions are between 1
"This proves that humans entered the region at the end of the last Ice Age," Duncan McLaren, an anthropologist from the Hakai Institute and University of Victoria and principal author of the study, tells St. Fleur.
Today, Canada's Pacific coast is covered in temperate rainforests and dense bogs, making this a challenging area for archaeologists to explore. But as explained by Laura Geggel in Live Science the region looked very different at the end of the last Ice Age, about 11,000 to 14,000 years ago. Large amounts of the earth's water were contained in towering glaciers, and the sea level in Calvert Island was perhaps ten feet lower than it is today. Nevertheless, the old people would have needed a boat to get to the island. In the new study, the researchers speculate that the footprints were made by people "getting out of watercraft and moving to a drier central activity area."
The footprints could therefore provide additional evidence that the first settlers of North America arrived on the Continent by following a route along the Pacific coastline, rather than crossing a land bridge connecting Asia and North America, as widely believed , Some researchers have hypothesized that these early colonizers were supported on their coastal voyage by a "Kelp Highway" – amidst aquatic forests that promoted diverse ecosystems and offered a rich array of resources to ancient humans.
The prints add to a growing body of evidence that suggests that ancient humans thrive on the North American Pacific coast during the last ice age. Gemma Tarlach of Discover points out that the island of Calvert is located just a few miles south of the island of Triquet, home to one of the oldest known North American settlements – a 14,000-year-old village where recently archaeologists fish found hooks, stone tools, a stove and other ancient relics.
And Calvert Island can hold more stories about the first humans arriving in North America. The authors of the study write that "many more traces probably exist in the surrounding and undeveloped sediments."
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