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Awards success for Happisburgh footprints project

PUBLISHED: 10:25 07 March 2015 | UPDATED: 10:25 07 March 2015

Happisburgh footprints

Happisburgh footprints

Archant

The historically important Happisburgh footprints project on the north Norfolk coast has scooped a prestigious archaeological award.

More discoveries after footprints find

The footprints were discovered after a series of muddy hollows were revealed on the isolated north Norfolk beach.

They were found heading south along the bank of what was the River Thames – which ran through Norfolk and out to sea at Happisburgh, before the Ice Age pushed the river further south.

The wet riverbank made it possible for the footsteps to be preserved before being quickly covered over with silt. The impressions then gradually became semi-fossilised, their movements frozen for discovery more than 800,000 years later.

Paleontologist Simon Parfitt, who also works at University College London, discovered the remains with Dr Marton Bates, a geologist from the University of Wales Trinity Saint David, as well as other experts.

A research dig was undertaken for a few months after the discovery and Happisburgh residents helped out.

Since then ancient stone tools, hand axes and animal bones dating back 1m years have been washed up in the Happisburgh to Eccles area.

Experts discovered the 800,000-year-old remains – the oldest human footprints outside of Africa – by chance on Happisburgh beach in May 2013 while scouring the area for archaeological finds.

The footprints team won Rescue Dig of the Year through public votes at the 2015 Current Archaeology Awards, given out by the UK’s leading archaeology magazine.

All the footprints are now washed away by coastal erosion but the experts’ work continues along the Happisburgh to Eccles coast where objects and fossils from up to 1m years ago are washed up.

One footprint was preserved and will be scanned and researched at the University of Southampton.

From left, Current Archaeology awards host Julian Richards, Dr John Mitchell, representing Export and General Insurance Services Ltd which sponsored the dig award, and Happiburgh project team leaders Prof Chris Stringer, from Natural History Museum, and Dr Simon Lewis, of Queen Mary University of London. The Current Archaeology awards ceremony happened at the ceremony at the University of London's Senate House. . Picture: CURRENT ARCHAEOLOGYFrom left, Current Archaeology awards host Julian Richards, Dr John Mitchell, representing Export and General Insurance Services Ltd which sponsored the dig award, and Happiburgh project team leaders Prof Chris Stringer, from Natural History Museum, and Dr Simon Lewis, of Queen Mary University of London. The Current Archaeology awards ceremony happened at the ceremony at the University of London's Senate House. . Picture: CURRENT ARCHAEOLOGY

Geologist Martin Warren, 63, from West Street in Cromer, said: “We have known for a long time that Happisburgh is a special place and it just keeps producing a lot of surprises. It is one of those exciting places where geology meets archaeology. The geology is quite young but the archaeology is quite old from the preglacial era. It is quite unusual.”

He added the archaeological remains attracted many people to the county and it was important for local collectors to keep an eye out for future discoveries in the area.

Natural History Museum and British Museum experts discovered the footprints but they were, and continue to be, supported by the Happisburgh community who record historic finds.

One of the Happisburgh project leaders, paleontologist Simon Parfitt, from the Natural History Museum, said: “The award is an amazing achievement. There is a huge amount of interest in the project and that is why we try to contribute to it to make connections with the collectors.”

Have you got an archaeology story? Email sophie.wyllie@archant.co.uk

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