Human footprints from thousands of years ago aren’t often preserved—but when they are, they are usually important.

Footprints have a kind of coolness to them. They stoke the imagination. They bring archaeological sites to life.

The recent discovery of footprints on Calvert Island on the Central Coast of B.C. has received considerable international interest from both mainstream media and archaeologists.

The footprints have been tentatively dated at 13,200 years old. Researchers have already been able to identify at least three individuals from the prints—two adults and a child—perhaps making up a nuclear family.

If further testing supports the dating, these footprints will be the oldest widely accepted tangible evidence of people in the region. There are approximately 50,000 recorded archaeological sites in the province, but none are undeniably older than about 12,500 years.

The footprints will also be the earliest preserved human footprints in North America, and among only a few dozen sets of human footprints that surpass a few thousand years in age worldwide. If the dates are confirmed, the footprints will provide further support to the hypothesis that the original migrants to the Americas travelled through this area, skirting the western edge of the glaciers in the terminal stages of the last ice age.

Archaeologists believe that the ancestry of almost all First Nations people in North America can be traced to individuals who traversed the coastline many thousands of years ago. It is feasible that some of the more than six million people claiming Indigenous ancestry in North America are related to those who left these prints.

Submitted by Bob Muckle, Anthropology department 

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Bob Muckle has been directing archaeological projects in B.C. for more than 20 years. He regularly teaches courses on archaeology and First Nations at Capilano U. He can also be followed on Twitter: @bobmuckle.

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