Hundreds of ancient human footprints dating back 9,000 years found at Formby beach

Formby was a hub of human and animal activity in the first few thousand years after the last glacial period.

<p>Dr Alison Burns and Professor Jamie Woodward inspecting 8500-year-old animal and human footprints in one of the Mesolithic mud beds at Formby. Image: Jamie Woodward/SWNS</p>

Dr Alison Burns and Professor Jamie Woodward inspecting 8500-year-old animal and human footprints in one of the Mesolithic mud beds at Formby. Image: Jamie Woodward/SWNS

Hundreds of ancient human footprints dating back as far as 9,000 years have been found alongside prehistoric animal tracks on Formby Beach.

A hub for coastal wildlife and home to prehistoric walking trials, this isn’t the first time mystery footprints have been spotted on the beach.

Dubbed the ‘Serengeti of Europe,’ scientists say the newly-discovered footprints show wolves, lynx and wild boar roamed the area alongside humans before a major decline in biodiversity 5,500 years ago.

The first prints date back almost 9,000 years and the most recent are about 1,000 years old, according to researchers from the University of Manchester.

Their findings, published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution, reveal how the coastal environment transformed over thousands of years, as sea levels rapidly rose and humans settled permanently by the water.

The sandy stretch of coast is already known to be home to one of the largest collections of prehistoric animal tracks on Earth.

A footprint bed from the Mesolithic about 8500 years ago covered in red deer hoofprints. The sandy stretch of the north-west England coast is already known to be home to one of the largest collections of prehistoric animal tracks on Earth. Image: Jamie Woodward/SWNS

Now experts found that the area close to the modern shoreline in Formby was a hub of human and animal activity in the first few thousand years after the last glacial period. It was such a biodiversity hotspot with large grazers and predators that it has been dubbed a ‘northwest European Serengeti’, a reference to the protected area in Tanzania.

Dr Allison Burns, who spent six years undertaking the field research said: “The Formby footprint beds form one of the world’s largest known concentrations of prehistoric vertebrate tracks.

“Well-dated fossil records for this period are absent in the landscapes around the Irish Sea basin.

“This is the first time that such a faunal history and ecosystem has been reconstructed solely from footprint evidence.”

Dr Alison Burns and Professor Jamie Woodward inspecting 8500-year-old animal and human footprints in one of the Mesolithic mud beds at Formby. Image: Jamie Woodward/SWNS

The researchers also show both animals and humans lived in the area closest to the shoreline for the first few thousands years after the last ice age.

The size and shape of one of the human footprints discovered suggest it belonged to a young man, perhaps a teenager.

The experts have also noticed a decline in large mammals in the footprint record, which could be the result of sea level rise and the development of agricultural economies or that more people were hunting, due to the rise in the human population.

Red deer hoofprint in the ancient mud on Formby beach radiocarbon dated to about 8500 years ago. Image: Jamie Woodward/SWNS

Fellow author Professor Jamie Woodward said: “Assessing the threats to habitat and biodiversity posed by rising sea levels is a key research priority for our times – we need to better understand these processes in both the past and the present.

“This research shows how sea level rise can transform coastal landscapes and degrade important ecosystems.”