The Hauxley Footprints
In 2010 the Northumberland coast at Low Hauxley was, once again, battered by winter storms. Local amateur archaeologist Jim Nesbitt spotted a newly uncovered layer of ancient peat on the beach. A closer inspection of the peat revealed the amazingly preserved footprints of humans and animals. Before the tide swept back in to hide the discovery, Jim photographed the footprints and contacted archaeologist Dr Clive Waddington with his remarkable news.
Recording the Prints
The fragile footprints could easily be destroyed by the same sea that had uncovered them and it was important to record the area as soon as possible. Clive, along with David Passmore and Andrew burn, arrived and began recording GPS data to map out the position and extent of the peat layer. A number of footprints were cleaned and photographed. On that first day the three had only 30 minutes to work at low tide. Over the next few days, a team worked to map out and photograph the footprints in soaking and freezing conditions. The sea then intervened, covering the area with a thick layer of sand.
In 2012 another series of storms uncovered the footprints once again. However this time the area of peat was smaller than before. The sea had ripped whole sections of the surface away. Clive and his team returned and recorded the remaining surface. This time they were able to take samples of the wood from the peat and collected hazelnut shells which they found embeded in the surface. This was all potential dating evidence. A sample through the peat was taken to look for pollen samples and a red deer antler was discovered.
The dating and pollen evidence collected suggests the peat began to form in a marshy, wooded area around 7400 years ago. A few hundred years later the footprints were made. To be as well preserved as the examples found at Hauxley the fresh prints must have been covered over with a sandy layer fairly soon after they were made. This may not have been deposited by the sea directly. Wind blown sand can very quickly make an impact on land a fair distance from the shore.
In all, over 100 footprints were recorded. The human prints, of both adults and children, connect us immediately to the past at Hauxley. The hooves of enormous aurochsen, wild boar and deer are amazingly preserved alongside those of our ancestors. These Neolithic footprints are very rare indeed and it is a privilege to, literally, stand so close to the footsteps of our ancestors.