More than two dozen newly discovered ancient footprints on a Canadian island suggest human activity further north in that era than previously known, according to a study published in the scientific journal PLOS One. A team of scientists found 29 footprints in total on Calvert Island, which lies off Canada’s West Coast. The prints were dated to around 13,000 years ago.
The study claimed the prints were proof that humans managed to navigate waters and make their way to Canada’s coast at the tail end of the Pleistocene epoch, or the last time large parts of the planet were frozen over. The ice may have melted just enough to make way for land that was hospitable to mammals, according to Ars Technica.
— Ars Technica (@arstechnica) March 29, 2018
The study said it was possible that humans got there using primitive watercraft. However, there was no sign of any boat in the area, and the oldest known boat was a canoe in the Netherlands that was dated to three thousand years later, per Ars Technica. Three distinct foot sizes were observed, all likely barefoot, as toe shapes could be made out in the prints.
The beach area they studied is difficult to access now, as Calvert Island is overrun with rainforests and bogs. Earth’s sea level was significantly lower when these humans would have been there, though. Interestingly, the layout of the footprints suggested that this beach was something of a gathering area; the people who left the prints were moving about in different directions rather than walking together in a line.
Researchers believe at least one set of footprints at the site belonged to a child. Older sets of human footprints have been found around the Americas, but generally further south than Calvert Island. The majority of human footprints tend to disappear quickly, so for these prints to be preserved so well was made this a fortunate find.
It is not known exactly when modern humans first came to the Americas, but it is believed to have been between 20,000 and 10,000 years ago.