Footprints in the Sand: What ancient human footprints on Canada’s shoreline reveal about migration to North America

Footprints in the Sand: What ancient human footprints on Canada’s shoreline reveal about migration to North America

Human footprints found off Canada’s Pacific coast may be 13,000 years old, according to a study published March 28, 2018, in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Duncan McLaren and colleagues from the University of Victoria, Canada.

Humans are believed to have migrated from Eurasia to North America during the last ice age, which ended around 11,700 years ago. One hypothesized entry point is what is now the west coast of British Columbia, Canada, but the densely forested, inaccessible landscape of the area has previously hampered the search for archaeological evidence.

In the new study, McLaren and colleagues conducted excavations of intertidal beach sediments on the shoreline of Calvert Island, British Columbia, where sea level was several meters lower during the last ice age than it is today. Accessing the beach by boat, they spent several painstaking years unearthing traces of ancient human activity.

The researchers uncovered 29 human footprints of at least three different sizes in the sediments, and digital analyses suggested that they probably belonged to two adults and a child, all of whom were barefoot. Radiocarbon dating estimated the footprints to be around 13,000 years old, meaning that humans were likely present on the west coast of British Columbia as it emerged from the last ice age.

These footprints provide new evidence supporting the hypothesis that humans migrated from Eurasia to North America via British Columbia. The authors believe that there may well be more human footprints in the area, which could continue to clarify patterns of early human settlement on the North American coast.

Research Article: McLaren D, Fedje D, Dyck A, Mackie Q, Gauvreau A, Cohen J (2018) Terminal Pleistocene epoch human footprints from the Pacific coast of Canada. PLoS ONE 13(3): e0193522. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0193522

Image Credit: Duncan McLaren

Author

Beth works at PLOS as Journal Media Manager. She read Natural Sciences, specializing in Pathology, at the University of Cambridge before joining PLOS in 2013. She feels fortunate to be able to read and write about the exciting new research published by PLOS.

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