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      Hominin Footprints from Early Pleistocene Deposits at Happisburgh, UK


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          Investigations at Happisburgh, UK, have revealed the oldest known hominin footprint surface outside Africa at between ca. 1 million and 0.78 million years ago. The site has long been recognised for the preservation of sediments containing Early Pleistocene fauna and flora, but since 2005 has also yielded humanly made flint artefacts, extending the record of human occupation of northern Europe by at least 350,000 years. The sediments consist of sands, gravels and laminated silts laid down by a large river within the upper reaches of its estuary. In May 2013 extensive areas of the laminated sediments were exposed on the foreshore. On the surface of one of the laminated silt horizons a series of hollows was revealed in an area of ca. 12 m 2. The surface was recorded using multi-image photogrammetry which showed that the hollows are distinctly elongated and the majority fall within the range of juvenile to adult hominin foot sizes. In many cases the arch and front/back of the foot can be identified and in one case the impression of toes can be seen. Using foot length to stature ratios, the hominins are estimated to have been between ca. 0.93 and 1.73 m in height, suggestive of a group of mixed ages. The orientation of the prints indicates movement in a southerly direction on mud-flats along the river edge. Early Pleistocene human fossils are extremely rare in Europe, with no evidence from the UK. The only known species in western Europe of a similar age is Homo antecessor, whose fossil remains have been found at Atapuerca, Spain. The foot sizes and estimated stature of the hominins from Happisburgh fall within the range derived from the fossil evidence of Homo antecessor.

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          The status of Homo heidelbergensis (Schoetensack 1908).

          The species Homo heidelbergensis is central to many discussions about recent human evolution. For some workers, it was the last common ancestor for the subsequent species Homo sapiens and Homo neanderthalensis; others regard it as only a European form, giving rise to the Neanderthals. Following the impact of recent genomic studies indicating hybridization between modern humans and both Neanderthals and "Denisovans", the status of these as separate taxa is now under discussion. Accordingly, clarifying the status of Homo heidelbergensis is fundamental to the debate about modern human origins. Copyright © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
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            Early Pleistocene human occupation at the edge of the boreal zone in northwest Europe.

            The dispersal of early humans from Africa by 1.75 Myr ago led to a marked expansion of their range, from the island of Flores in the east to the Iberian peninsula in the west. This range encompassed tropical forest, savannah and Mediterranean habitats, but has hitherto not been demonstrated beyond 45 degrees N. Until recently, early colonization in Europe was thought to be confined to the area south of the Pyrenees and Alps. However, evidence from Pakefield (Suffolk, UK) at approximately 0.7 Myr indicated that humans occupied northern European latitudes when a Mediterranean-type climate prevailed. This provided the basis for an 'ebb and flow' model, where human populations were thought to survive in southern refugia during cold stages, only expanding northwards during fully temperate climates. Here we present new evidence from Happisburgh (Norfolk, UK) demonstrating that Early Pleistocene hominins were present in northern Europe >0.78 Myr ago when they were able to survive at the southern edge of the boreal zone. This has significant implications for our understanding of early human behaviour, adaptation and survival, as well as the tempo and mode of colonization after their first dispersal out of Africa.
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              Early hominin foot morphology based on 1.5-million-year-old footprints from Ileret, Kenya.

              Hominin footprints offer evidence about gait and foot shape, but their scarcity, combined with an inadequate hominin fossil record, hampers research on the evolution of the human gait. Here, we report hominin footprints in two sedimentary layers dated at 1.51 to 1.53 million years ago (Ma) at Ileret, Kenya, providing the oldest evidence of an essentially modern human-like foot anatomy, with a relatively adducted hallux, medial longitudinal arch, and medial weight transfer before push-off. The size of the Ileret footprints is consistent with stature and body mass estimates for Homo ergaster/erectus, and these prints are also morphologically distinct from the 3.75-million-year-old footprints at Laetoli, Tanzania. The Ileret prints show that by 1.5 Ma, hominins had evolved an essentially modern human foot function and style of bipedal locomotion.

                Author and article information

                Role: Editor
                PLoS One
                PLoS ONE
                PLoS ONE
                Public Library of Science (San Francisco, USA )
                7 February 2014
                : 9
                : 2
                [1 ]Department of Prehistory and Europe, British Museum, London, United Kingdom
                [2 ]Institute of Archaeology, University College London, London, United Kingdom
                [3 ]School of Geography, Queen Mary University of London, London, United Kingdom
                [4 ]Research Centre in Evolutionary Anthropology and Palaeoecology, Liverpool John Moores University, Liverpool, United Kingdom
                [5 ]Department of Archaeology, University of York, York, United Kingdom
                [6 ]Department of Archaeology, University of Wales Trinity St David, Lampeter, United Kingdom
                [7 ]School of Geography and Geosciences, University of Andrews, St Andrews, United Kingdom
                [8 ]Department of Geology, Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery, Norwich, United Kingdom
                [9 ]Department of Earth Sciences, Natural History Museum, London, United Kingdom
                [10 ]School of Botany, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, United Kingdom
                University of Oxford, United Kingdom
                Author notes

                Competing Interests: The authors declare that no competing interests exist.

                Conceived and designed the experiments: NA SGL S. Parfitt MB RB PH CS. Performed the experiments: NA SGL S. Parfitt PH MB RB SMD CW. Analyzed the data: NA SGL S. Parfitt IDG SMD ML S. Peglar CS. Contributed reagents/materials/analysis tools: SMD ML S. Peglar CW. Wrote the paper: NA SGL IDG SMD MB RB PH ML S. Parfitt S. Peglar CW CS.


                This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

                Page count
                Pages: 13
                The research was funded by the Calleva Foundation as part of the Pathways to Ancient Britain Project. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.
                Research Article
                Evolutionary Biology
                Organismal Evolution
                Human Evolution
                Earth Sciences
                Human Geography
                Social and Behavioral Sciences
                Biological Anthropology
                Physical Anthropology



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