Meet the ancestors: What we’ve learnt from some very old East Anglians

Of the few other examples of human footprints as old as this, almost all were in Africa

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The discovery in Norfolk of a set of footprints dating back nearly a million years is one of the most exciting in the field of prehistoric studies for a very long time. Their significance can hardly be overstated. They point to the existence of a long-extinct hominid species, Homo antecessor (“Pioneer Man”), who roamed an area not far from what is now Norwich. They were very possibly among the first human colonisers of Britain. We now know just a little bit more about where we sprung from.

Of the few other examples of human footprints as old as this, almost all were in Africa. The fact that these have been found in England indicates that humans lived in cold northern Europe, which had previously been thought unlikely. These people seem not so different from us; the Norfolk discovery comprises a small group of at least one or two large adult males, at least two or three adult females or teenagers and at least three or four children. They were probably between 0.9m and 1.7m tall. Their feet were almost exactly the same size as that of their modern human counterparts. They seem to have been partial to seafood, harvesting shellfish, crabs and seaweed. It is a tantalising glimpse into a past previously unknown.

Experts tell us that our East Anglian ancestors were from the first of nine major colonisations of the country. Proof, were it needed, that we are indeed a nation of immigrants.

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