Researchers from Hakai Institute and the University of Victoria have discovered the earliest known human footprints in North America, a study published in PLOS ONE reports.
The fossilized prints are 13,000 years old, which means they could help shed light on the way humans moved from Asia to North America.
Typically, it is believed that humans traveled to North America by way of a land bridge during the last ice age. It is believed the population moved along the west coast of British Columbia — which is now covered by dense forests — down into the continent. The prints add support to that theory.
In the study, researchers excavated the shoreline of Calvert Island and found evidence the sea level at the time the prints were made was 6 to 10 feet lower than it is today. They also discovered 29 human footprints of at least three different sizes.
Though researchers are not sure, they think the prints belonged to three different humans: two adults and a child. All three were barefoot, and they each crossed at the area right above the high-tide line.
The team found the fossils in 2014. While scientists are not sure how the prints lasted so long, the team believes they were left in clay and preserved as they became filled with sand and gravel.
As the prints come from the last ice age — which occurred between 11,000 and 14,000 year ago — it adds credence to the hypothesis that people once moved from Asia to North America. It also suggests ancient peoples moved between glacier-free areas between the sea and ice using watercraft.
“This finding provides evidence of the seafaring people who inhabited this area during the tail end of the last major ice age,” said lead author Duncan McLaren, a professor at the University of Victoria, according to Mentalfloss,
However, as much information as the prints give, they do not reveal if humans moved down the coast or what they were like. More research needs to be gathered before such claims can be made.
“We have stopped excavating the footprint to preserve them for future generations,” added McLaren, according to ZME Science. “Our research now turns to finding other areas on the coast that may have been ice free during the last ice age.”