06/23/2015 09:52 EDT | Updated 06/23/2016 05:59 EDT

Footprints found on B.C.'s Calvert Island could be oldest in North America

Archaeologists have discovered footprints on British Columbia's Central Coast that they believe are more than 13,000 years old.

"It was really quite exciting because with every brush of the trowel, you'd see toes appearing or a heel or the arch of a foot," said University of Victoria archeologist Duncan McLaren, who was the team lead on a series of digs on Calvert Island.

"The hair on the back of our necks was standing up."

McLaren says the first print, pressed in grey clay that was covered with other sediments, was found late last year just as work was wrapping up for the autumn season. 

"We weren't actually to certain what we found, but we took some photographs, also took some samples of the sediment from within the footprint."

"We sent off the tests for radiocarbon dating and the date came back at 13,200 years ago."

As far as McLaren knows, these footprints are the oldest ever found in North America.

McLaren says the find could provide key evidence about how the continent's first inhabitants migrated south.

"There's one theory that people migrated from Asia, Beringia and Alaska along the West Coast using watercraft. There's no way to get to to Calvert Island other than watercraft and that applies to 13,000 years ago as it does today."

An additional 12 footprints were found in May and McLaren hopes to return to Calvert Island soon and expand the excavation area.

"We are working in an inter-tidal zone so while these are very important features, one thing that we always have in the back of our head is that we want to be very careful when we are excavating them."

"But at the same time the tide is coming in and will create havoc for us so it's always a little bit of rush against time."

To hear the full interview with Duncan McLaren, listen to the audio labelled 13,000 year old footprints.