Archaeologists have discovered 5,000-year-old footprints in southern Denmark that reveal how Stone Age people made strenuous attempts to cope with the destructive forces of the sea.
The prints were found during work for the Femern Belt link scheme, an immersed tunnel that will connect the German island of Fehmarn with the Danish island of Lolland.
For thousands of years, this area, rich in fjords and streams, has been under the constant influence of the sea.
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Finds of fixed gillnets on stakes, dated to 5,000 years ago, are clear evidence of a fishing system which was used to feed a Stone Age community.
Indeed, the footprints were found alongside this system of fishing weirs.
"These prints show the population attempted to save parts of their fishing system before it was flooded and covered in sand," Anne-Lotte Sjørup Mathiesen of the Museum Lolland-Falster, said.
The footprints suggest that at least two people stepped out into the swampy seabed to save whatever they could. Subsequently, they set up the fixed gillnet on stakes some distance away.
"Their footprints were covered with a layer of sand and dirt shortly after, and have been there since," Sjørup Mathiesen told Discovery News.
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She added the prints correspond to foot size 36 (size 5.5 US women's) and 42 (size US 9 men's).
"One print is very small compared to the other. At the moment we can't tell whether it belonged to a boy or a woman," Sjørup Mathiesen said.
The findings promise to provide new insight into the population's everyday life and challenges.
"Here we have direct imprints from ancient people's activities, which can be associated with a concrete event – a storm destroying the fixed gillnet on stakes. In order to secure the survival of the population, the fishing system had to be repaired," Sjørup Mathiesen said.
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The excavation in the area has not yet been completed. Archaeologists at the Museum Lolland-Falster hope that further investigations will reveal even more footprints.
"This is really a quite extraordinary finding," Terje Stafseth, archaeologist at Museum Lolland-Falster, said.
"We are familiar with animal footprints, but to the best of my knowledge, we have never come across human footprints in Danish Stone Age archaeology before," he added.
Image: The 5,000-year-old footprints. Credit: Museum Lolland-Falster, Denmark.