BRITISH COLUMBIA
03/30/2018 12:51 EDT | Updated 03/30/2018 12:51 EDT

Earliest North American Human Footprints Found In Surprising Spot In Canada

The 13,000-year-old footprints date back to the last Ice Age.

Footprints from ice-age humans some 13,000 years ago have been found beneath the sands of a Canadian Island in the Pacific — the earliest prints ever discovered in North America.

The 29 footprints of three different shapes and sizes, which scientists believe were from a child and two adults, were embedded in a layer of clay on Calvert Island in British Columbia. The barefoot prints indicated a variety of activity, so the humans weren't simply passing through, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal PLOS One.

The first North Americans are widely believed to have crossed from Siberia to Alaska via a Bering land bridge. The footprints suggest the early travelers then may have traveled south along the Pacific coast, rather than farther inland.

The findings add to the "growing body of evidence that early peoples in the Americas inhabited the coastal margin and circumnavigated the western edge of the Cordilleran Ice Sheet to move between Beringia [the land bridge] and mid-latitude North America at the end of the last ice age," the authors wrote.

University of Victoria
Dozens of ancient footprints, one of which is shown at the dig site on a British Columbia island, have been confirmed as the earliest known of their kind in North America.

The prints, found during excavations from 2014 to 2016, also suggest the humans may have traveled among islands via primitive boats, though no evidence of boats has been found.

The footprints provide "evidence of the seafaring people who inhabited this area during the tail end of the last major ice age," Duncan McLaren, lead author of the study and anthropologist at the Hakai Institute and University of Victoria in British Columbia, said in a statement.

At the end of the ice age, from 11,000 to 14,000 years ago, the sea level was as much as 10 feet below what it is now. The footprints were likely just above the high-tide line at the time.

As this island would only have been accessible by watercraft 13,000 years ago, it implies that the people who left the footprints were seafarers who used boats to get around.Duncan McLaren

"The footprints were impressed into a soil just above the paleo-shoreline, possibly by a group of people disembarking from watercraft and moving towards a drier central activity area," the study said.

"As this island would only have been accessible by watercraft 13,000 years ago, it implies that the people who left the footprints were seafarers who used boats to get around, gather and hunt for food, and live and explore the islands," McLaren told The New York Times.

The few archeological sites discovered previously as far north were slightly earlier, from 12,700 to 11,800 years ago, according to Ars Technica. Human footprints 14,000 years old have been discovered in Argentina and Chile.

The earliest boat is a dugout canoe in the Netherlands dated about 10,000 years ago.