British Columbia: Oldest Footprints in North America Belonged to Family on Calvert Island

The oldest footprints in North America have been discovered on Calvert Island in British Columbia, Canada. The amazing archaeological discovery features 12 footprints that indicate at least three separate individuals, possibly living as a family group.

Calvert Island’s First Family Found in the Oldest Footprints in North America

On a small island off the coast of British Columbia, a family of two adults and one child huddled around a fire. They circled around the stone-ringed fire pit, warming their hands and faces with the heat coming from their tiny bonfire as their footprints melted into the soft clay under their feet.

13,000 years later, archaeologists have uncovered those very footprints in the soft clay. The footprints were brushed over with black sand, but still so well preserved, it is almost shocking to believe the family had gathered thousands of years ago. Though the family has long since disappeared, they may have just provided archaeologists with evidence of the earliest humans in North America.

Two digs, 12 footprints and 13,200 years of history on Calvert Island

Calvert Island is a small island of British Columbia, situated approximately 500 km north of Vancouver and surrounded by the icy waters of the Pacific Coast. The only way to access the island is via boat, which is how a team of archaeologists from the University of Victoria came to the island in 2014.


The team, led by Duncan McLaren and Daryl Fedje, were looking for evidence of human settlement in North America after the end of the Last Glacial Maximum, which occurred 20,000 years ago. Though the region would have been completely underwater until an estimated 14,000 years ago, the researchers were lucky to find a single footprint near the shore. With support from the Hakai Institute, the team embarked on a second archaeological dig at the same site a few months later.

On the second dig, the archaeologists unearthed the stone-ringed fire pit surrounded by a total of 12 footprints. Radiocarbon dating determined the family group had their bonfire around 13,200 years ago.

The footprints are so defined that archaeologists could identify the toes and even the foot arches in the prints, which was the evidence needed to reveal how many members were in the family.

Oldest footprints reveal clues to North America’s first inhabitants

The footprints in the soft clay have provided much more than an idea of when the first inhabitants roamed around North America’s West Coast. They also support a new theory that the first inhabitants likely migrated to the continent from Alaska by boat.

Most theories argue that the first coastal settlements were founded by humans traveling inland by foot. Although not yet published in a peer-reviewed publication, some researchers believe these findings may support the theory of sea-based travel.

Finding more evidence will prove challenging as the Pacific Coast would have now covered former coastal settlements with its icy waters, if such settlements even existed. But for now, the archaeologists have enough proof to show that human migration happened along the North American coastline as early as 6,000 years after the end of the Ice Age thanks to the footprints in the sand.


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