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'How I found prehistoric human footprints' - Norfolk man tells of amazing beach find

Keen fossil hunter Paul Macro discovered footprints nearly 800,000 years old along the north Norfolk coast. Picture: Neil Didsbury

Keen fossil hunter Paul Macro discovered footprints nearly 800,000 years old along the north Norfolk coast. Picture: Neil Didsbury

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Some of the oldest footprints ever seen outside Africa have been discovered on the north Norfolk coast.

The prehistoric footprints that were seen on the beach at Happisburgh, Norfolk, before they were washed awaya couple of days later. Picture: Paul Macro/ScanLAB ProjectsThe prehistoric footprints that were seen on the beach at Happisburgh, Norfolk, before they were washed awaya couple of days later. Picture: Paul Macro/ScanLAB Projects

Some of the oldest footprints ever seen outside Africa have been discovered on the north Norfolk coast.

The five footprints seen on Happisburgh beach are thought to be 850,000 to 950,000 years old, and would have been made by Homo Antecessor - a human species that predates our own - Homo Sapiens.

Paul Macro, from Sprowston, discovered the prints at the end of May while scanning and photographing the coast as part of an assignment for London-based studio ScanLAB Projects.

Mr Macro, whose hobby is hunting for fossils, said: "I frantically messaged the ScanLAB guys and said, 'look, this probably sounds ridiculous, but I think I've just found some 800,000-year-old human footprints."

Footprints belonging to ancestors of modern humans, believed to be Homo Antecessor, have been found on |Happisburgh beach. Picture: Losdelpalito/Wikipedia CommonsFootprints belonging to ancestors of modern humans, believed to be Homo Antecessor, have been found on |Happisburgh beach. Picture: Losdelpalito/Wikipedia Commons

The find echoes the discovery of the footprints found on Happisburgh beach in May 2013 which date from the same era, and were identified as the oldest human footprints ever found outside Africa.

However, just like the 2013 footprints, this set was obscured by sand and the tide within a couple of days, after Mr Macro had made a 3D scan of them.

He said: "The layer containing the footprints was uncovered, and then that layer was eroded by the sea. It's quite hard to get your head around really.

"I'm very proud and privilege to have found them. And proud that it's been recorded, because within two days the layer was not visible any more."

The Deep History Coast project in Sheringham brings to life what living in Doggerland might for a hominin family. Picture: Chris TaylorThe Deep History Coast project in Sheringham brings to life what living in Doggerland might for a hominin family. Picture: Chris Taylor

Nick Ashton, the British Museum's prehistory of Europe department curator, said: "From the photos that I've seen, the prints appear to be very similar those discovered in 2013, and would be of a similar age - either 850,000 or possibly 950,000 years old. These are still the oldest outside Africa."

Mr Macro sent photos of the find to Jason Gibbons, from the Norfolk Historic Environment Service.

Mr Gibbons said: "The footprints are probably made by Homo Antecessor, a more advanced form of Homo Erectus.

"Antecessor is the likely suspect at that time. We have recovered their flint tools, we now have more of their footprints and these are the earliest outside of Africa."

The prehistoric footprints that were seen on the beach at Happisburgh, Norfolk, before they were washed awaya couple of days later. Picture: Paul Macro/ScanLAB ProjectsThe prehistoric footprints that were seen on the beach at Happisburgh, Norfolk, before they were washed awaya couple of days later. Picture: Paul Macro/ScanLAB Projects

The discovery was announced yesterday in Sheringham at the launch of North Norfolk District Council's Deep History Coast project, which aims to capitalise on the region's growing reputation as a window on our prehistory. Other finds Mr Macro has made while working on the project include a 500,000-year-old hand axe and a mammoth tooth.

Deep History Coast: What is it?

The new Deep History Coast trail goes from Weybourne to Cart Gap, a stretch of the coastal pathway that has new interpretive signs shedding a light on the region's prehistoric past.

Visitors can use a new Deep History Coast app to guide them along the path while learning more about the prehistoric humans, mammoths, woolly rhinos and other creatures that once inhabited these lands.

The Deep History Coast project in Sheringham brings to life what living in Doggerland might for a hominin family. Picture: Chris TaylorThe Deep History Coast project in Sheringham brings to life what living in Doggerland might for a hominin family. Picture: Chris Taylor

More than 50 businesses are working with the council to promote the scheme. The hope is that Deep History Coast will draw thousands more visitors to the region, as well as giving residents a chance to learn more about the stories hidden beneath our feet.

Sarah Butikofer, council leader, said: "It's a hugely important part of our country's - our world's - history. We've been working on this project for a long time now and it's fantastic to see it come to fruition just in time for the school holidays."

Going deep: How the history coast project will change the face of Norfolk tourism

The Deep History Coast trail will "change the face" of tourism in north Norfolk, according to the council's head of economic and community development, Rob Young.

The Deep History Coast project in Sheringham brings to life what living in Doggerland might for a hominin family. Picture: Chris TaylorThe Deep History Coast project in Sheringham brings to life what living in Doggerland might for a hominin family. Picture: Chris Taylor

Mr Young said one of the goals was to encourage more visitors to the region during winter, when debris uncovered in the wake of storms left beaches like West Runton a haven for fossil hunters.

Mr Young said: "We want to encourage people to stay for longer and come for more winter breaks, and see the coast in a new light.

"We've got these amazing cliffs which are built out of soft sediment and rock. They erode and that erosion is a problem for some coastal communities, but it's also an asset, because it holds a record of our ancient past. The footprints discovered here are evidence of an ancient civilization that dates back to when this land was connected to mainland Europe via Doggerland, and early humans migrated across along with mammoths, and all the other fascinating fauna."

The Deep History Coast project in Sheringham brings to life what living in Doggerland might for a hominin family. Picture: Chris TaylorThe Deep History Coast project in Sheringham brings to life what living in Doggerland might for a hominin family. Picture: Chris Taylor

Adding personalised artwork to the new Deep History Coast initiative in Sheringham.  Picture: Neil DidsburyAdding personalised artwork to the new Deep History Coast initiative in Sheringham. Picture: Neil Didsbury

The prehistoric footprints that were seen on the beach at Happisburgh, Norfolk, before they were washed awaya couple of days later. Picture: Paul Macro/ScanLAB ProjectsThe prehistoric footprints that were seen on the beach at Happisburgh, Norfolk, before they were washed awaya couple of days later. Picture: Paul Macro/ScanLAB Projects

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History comes alive with augmented reality from signs on the Deep History Coast trail along the north Norfolk coast. Picture: Neil DidsburyHistory comes alive with augmented reality from signs on the Deep History Coast trail along the north Norfolk coast. Picture: Neil Didsbury

The prehistoric footprints that were seen on the beach at Happisburgh, Norfolk, before they were washed awaya couple of days later. Picture: Paul Macro/ScanLAB ProjectsThe prehistoric footprints that were seen on the beach at Happisburgh, Norfolk, before they were washed awaya couple of days later. Picture: Paul Macro/ScanLAB Projects

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