Footprints 'date back 7,000 years and could show hunting party'

Updated: 

Ancient human footprints discovered on the Welsh coastline are 7,000 years old and could show a snapshot of a Mesolithic hunting party, researchers have said.

Discovered in 2014, the pre-historic footprints of both children and adults at Port Eynon on the Gower peninsula, South Wales, were initially thought to date to the Bronze Age but analysis carried out at Cardiff University has revealed they are actually 3,000 years older than that.

Archaeology PhD student Rhiannon Philp carried out radiocarbon dating on the fragile footprints, which now places them in the Mesolithic period, a time when humans were predominantly hunting and gathering.

Ms Philp, a student in the University's School of History, Archaeology and Religion, said: "These 'frozen' footprints made in freshwater marshland give us a fleeting glance of a group of adults and children travelling together seven millennia ago.

"But the picture is even more precise. Wild animal tracks suggest deer and wild boar moving in the same direction.

"What we might be witnessing 7,000 years later is a snapshot moment of a Mesolithic hunting party tracking their prey through an open, boggy landscape now lost to the waves."

A spokeswoman for the university said post-Ice Age human footprints were rare in the UK, with only nine recorded intertidal sites, the majority of which are in Wales.

She added Ms Philp's research was helping to contextualise and rebuild a landscape now lost to rising sea levels and increase understanding of the people who lived within it.

Ms Philp added: "Given the fragility of these examples and climate change now and then, it is incredibly important to obtain as much information as possible whenever the opportunity arises."

The analysis was funded by the Cambrian Archaeological Society and the Gower Society and further research is now under way to better understand the ancient environment and the people who lived in it.

Traces are now glimpsed only at low tide.