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Friday, 3 December 2010

Mesolithic footprints

Footptints of a man in bare feet, striding purposefully across an intertidal mudflat in the Severn Estuary around 7,000 years ago

 More and more examples of Mesolithic footprints are now coming to light as research continues around the coasts of the UK.  They are generally preserved on estuarine or riverine muddy sediments which have been later covered by peat.  Peat is easily dated by C14 methods, and so we can say with some certainty that these footprints are probably around 7,000 years old.  Sea level oscillations around this time are difficult to reconstruct,  partly because in the Severn Estuary there is such a vast tidal range and the precise character of the coast is not yet known.

 Acknowledgements to Derek Upton and Severn Estuary Levels Research Committee (SELRC)


Mesolithic human footprints were first found here on the foreshore by Derek Upton in 1986. This led to a programme of investigation and recording led by Professor Stephen Aldhouse-Green. It was shown that the footprints were stratified in banded sediments below thin peats that are dated to c. 4600 cal BC. The footprints include children as well as adults. They are associated with very extensive footprints of deer and birds. Derek Upton found an antler mattock near the footprints and radiocarbon dating shows it is of similar date to the footprints. The Uskmouth finds may represent a Mesolithic foraging expedition from a site of similar date at Goldcliff where many other Mesolithic human footprints and settlement areas have been found.


Robert Langdon said...

Footprints that come to a sudden end!

Looks like he was pushing his boat out of a reed bed just before jumping on board.

Hence the sudden end of the prints, the reason they were not washed away and the peat that would protect them for another 7,000 years.

Another proof of my hypothesis - thanks Brian!


BRIAN JOHN said...

Since when did the footprints come to a sudden end? I think you are imagining that......

Proof of your hypothesis?!! Sorry, Robert, but you apparently fail to notice that at the time when our Mesolithic friend was pottering about in the mud, you want relative sea level to be about 200m higher than it is today. To say that the poor guy would have been out of his depth would be putting it mildly..........

Can't work out your shorelines at all -- you seem to want a Mesolithic sea-level to be at +200m in Pembs, and about +50m in Somerset, at the same time. Perhaps you can explain?

TONY said...

Monmouthshire has preserved footprints at Uskmouth and Goldcliff. Mike Pitt's "British Archaeology", 101(July/ August 2008) says Goldcliff's very best footprint was found in 2004 when a return was made to film the very first Series of "Coast". From memory, I think Alice Roberts was the presenter. "By chance, erosion of the sea had uncovered an exceptionally well-preserved print of an 11-year-old.Research by Rachel Scales has shown that the majority of the human footprints are from children,some as young as 3 or 4; the young had an active role in
Mesolithic society, with all segments of the population engaged in coastal activities."

BRIAN JOHN said...

Yes, I've seen some of the other material re these footprints as well. This is maybe a bit off-topic, but I'm interested in trying to understand post-glacial and interglacial shorelines in the southern part of the UK because they can tell us a lot about isostatic loading etc.

What interests me about these Mesolithic footprints and other features is that they are interpreted as being on intertidal mudflats during the Mesolithic. Then they were covered by peat beds etc -- signalling a relative fall in sea-level. Peat can only survive close to HWM or above it. There is a tidal range of about 14m in the Severn Estuary. I'm not sure what the absolute altitude of these peat beds is today, but if the Mesolithic MSL was indeed around -10m to -15m around 7,000 years ago, then we have to have the same amount of isostatic depression at the time, and a more or less parallel amount of isostatic recovery and eustatic rise since then -- keeping the shoreline position more or less fixed. There were minor transgressions and regressions as shown in the Somerset Levels -- they may have been down to spikes in the eustatic rise, as suggested by Fairbridge long ago, or there may have been short-term oscillations including storm surges and minor climatic oscillations, or there may have been "hiccups" in the overall smooth pattern of isostatic recovery. Hmm -- further thought needed.....