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5000-Year-Old Human Footprints Shed Light on Stone Age

Nov 14, 2014 11:43 AM EST

Archaeologists in Denmark have discovered two pairs of 5,000-year-old human footprints, the first of their kind to be unearthed in the region, helping to shed light on coastal peoples from the Stone Age, according to new research.

"This is really quite extraordinary, finding footprints from humans," Terje Stafseth, an archaeologist at the Museum Lolland-Falster who helped excavate the prints, said in a statement. "Normally, what we find is their rubbish in the form of tools and pottery, but here, we suddenly have a completely different type of traces from the past, footprints left by a human being."

As part of the museum's ongoing excavation on the Danish island of Lolland, researchers stumbled upon long-lost evidence of a prehistoric fishing trip - two sets of human footprints and fishing gear dating back to the Stone Age, alongside a tool called a fishing fence.

Fishing fences, according to the researchers, were elaborate traps used to catch fish and were placed in the shallow waters of Denmark's fjords, or inlets.

"What seems to have happened was that at some point they were moving out to the [fish fence], perhaps to recover it before a storm," Lars Ewald Jensen, a project manager with the museum, told Live Science. "At one of the posts, there are footprints on each side of the post, where someone had been trying to remove it from the sea bottom."

The footprints were likely formed sometime between 5,000 BC and 2,000 BC, Jensen said, left behind at a time when Baltic Sea water levels were risingdue to melting glaciers in Northern Europe. Little did the prehistoric fishermen know that as they waded into these frigid waters, their every movement was being recorded in the seabed.

Jensen and his team are now making imprints, or flat molds, of the footprints to preserve these ancient signs of life. The Museum Lolland-Falster will also continue to excavate the site for another year or so until construction begins on a new underwater tunnel intended to connect Lolland to the German island of Fehmarn.

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