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It would have been inhabited by mammoths, rhinos, hippos, giant deer and bison, which were preyed upon by sabre-toothed cats, lions, wolves and hyenas.As well as an abundant supply of game and edible plants, the river gravels were rich in flint deposits, which early humans would have found an invaluable resource.
Dating the site has instead been based upon stratigraphy, palaeomagnetism, and the evidence of fossil flora and fauna in the sediments.The ancestral River Thames flowed further north than it does today before converging with the ancient Bytham River, Happisburgh lay about 15 miles (24 km) further inland than it does today and was the site of an ancient estuary where the Bytham and Thames rivers converged to flow into what would then have been a maritime bay.When the footprints were made, the estuary occupied a grassy, open valley surrounded by pine forests, with a climate similar to that of modern southern Scandinavia.Archaeologists have speculated that the group was searching the mudflats for seafood such as lugworms, shellfish, crabs, and seaweed.It is possible that the group might have lived on an island in the estuary that provided safety from predators, and were travelling from their island base to the shore at low tide.The Happisburgh finds mark the first time that evidence of early humans from 1,000,000 years ago have been found so far north.
Palaeontologists had believed that hominins of the period required a much warmer climate; but the inhabitants of prehistoric Happisburgh had adapted to the cold, suggesting that they had developed advanced methods of hunting, clothing, sheltering and warming much earlier than previously thought.The footprints were found in sediment, partially covered by beach sand, at low tide on the foreshore at Happisburgh.The sediment had been laid down in the estuary of a long-vanished river and subsequently been covered by sand, preserving its surface.The layer of sediment underlies a cliff on the beach, but after stormy weather the protective layer of sand was washed away and the sediment exposed.Although the researchers were unable to preserve the footprints, they worked during periods of low tide, often in pouring rain, to record 3D images of all the footprints by using photogrammetry.Happisburgh has produced a number of significant archaeological finds over many years.