An analysis of 29 prehistoric footprints found on the west coast of Canada have revealed that they are 13,000 years old, making them the oldest known footprints in North America. While older archeological remains have been uncovered elsewhere on the continent, this find adds to the body of evidence that modern humans were present on North America’s west coast well before the end of the last Ice Age, in this case over 2,500 years before the current geological era, the Holocene, began.

The footprints, found near the shoreline of Calvert Island in British Columbia, Canada, are that of two adults and a child, imprinted as they made their way across a stretch of clay soil. The prints were preserved by layers of coarse sediment and clay, with the date of this ancient journey confirmed by the radiocarbon dating of accompanying samples.

"This finding provides evidence of the seafaring people who inhabited this area during the tail end of the last major Ice Age," explains anthropologist Duncan McLaren, from the Hakai Institute and University of Victoria. McLaren first found the footprints in 2014, and uncovered more prints during subsequent expeditions in 2015 and 2016. The Calvert Island footprints also accompany the find of a similarly-aged, 14,000-year-old settlement on neighboring Triquet Island.

Evidence of human habitation that is 1,500 years older than these footprints has been found in Florida, implying that, if the ancestors of modern indigenous North Americans did migrate here over the Bering Land Bridge, they did so at a much earlier date–provided that that was the route that these inhabitants took. An astoundingly older age of 130,000 years for a hunting site near modern-day San Diego also may beat the Calvert Island find by ten times, but the jury is still out on whether the site was inhabited by modern humans or one of our hominid brethren: the Calvert Island footprints, however, are distinctly that of our more immediate ancestors. 

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