“It’s really, really exciting but also very emotional. You hear the history and the stories, and now you’re standing and looking at something that’s real, that’s confirming the stories that have been handed down over the generations.”
When did you ever hear someone speak so emotionally about footprints? William Housty, a member of the Heiltsuk Nation — a First Nations government in the Central Coast region of British Columbia – used those words in a Washington Post article to describe the discovery of 29 footprints on Calvert Island that date back 13,000 years, making them the oldest footprints ever discovered in North America. That alone would be enough to make the Heiltsuk people emotional, but there’s more that will make the “this changes everything” crowd shed a tear as well. The prints add credibility to the prevailing theory that ancient humans from Asia explored and populated North America by traversing the Pacific coastline rather than walking through the interior.
In a study published in PLOS One, Duncan McLaren of the University of Victoria and the Hakai Research Institute describes how his team found the footprints (pictures here) and then spent three years studying them and the area where they were discovered. The prints were discovered on the shore of Calvert Island in 2014. It appears they were made in clay, then they filled with sand, gravel and more clay which preserved them. It took them two seasons to remove the prints while dealing with rising tides.
Once removed, over half of the footprints were of good enough quality to be identified as human — “based on the clear arch, toe, and offset heel attributes of the tracks found during excavations, we are certain that they were left by human feet” – and measured. Sounding like a shoe salesman, McClaren described what they found.
“The footprint measurements correspond to modern day US shoe sizes of a junior size 8, a junior size 1 or woman’s size 3, and a woman’s size 8-9 (or man’s size 7-8).”
The smallest print is from a child, a significant find since most remains and artifacts are generally from adults. There was no evidence they wore any form of foot coverings – also unusual. Wood fragments located in the foot path allowed the researchers to date the footprints to just over 13,000 years ago.
“This provides evidence that people were inhabiting the region at the end of the last ice age. It is possible that the coast was one of the means by which people entered the Americas at that 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, gather and hunt for food and live and explore the islands.”
The age and location of the prints support an interesting theory called the Kelp Highway, which suggests that a high concentration of underwater kelp along the North Pacific coast which fed an ecosystem that allowed seafaring people to live and travel along the shore.
Based on all of this, the footprints of Calvert Island should at least be considered a discovery that changes many things.