One Step Forward - 4,000 Years Back; Visitors to the Museum of Liverpool Will Be Invited to Walk in Prehistoric Footprints. Laura Davis Reports

Daily Post (Liverpool, England), January 19, 2011 | Go to article overview

One Step Forward - 4,000 Years Back; Visitors to the Museum of Liverpool Will Be Invited to Walk in Prehistoric Footprints. Laura Davis Reports


Byline: Laura Davis

IT STARTS with a lucky coincidence - a local man who just happened to be interested in local history taking a stroll along Formby Beach as the waves washed the final layer of silt from a set of prehistoric footprints.

For four millennia, they had remained hidden, shielded from the eroding hand of time by a protective covering of silt and sand. Now exposed to the surface, they would be visible for just a few days before the Irish Sea wore them away forever.

As Gordon Roberts stared at the footsteps made by a person living 4,000 years ago, he knew he could not bear to see them vanish, so he took plaster casts of their impressions in the sand.

That was in the 1980s. Technology has advanced since then, and he has lent the casts to National Museums Liverpool, where conservation experts are able to recreate them using a laser scanner and 3-D printer.

Copies will be placed on the floor of the new Museum of Liverpool so that visitors can walk in the footsteps of prehistoric man.

"I am used to handling old objects day to day, I've been doing it for 30 years now, but when you come across something like this it really brings the past to life," says archaeologist Mark Adams.

"The first time I went to the beach, there were prints of an adult and a child walking side by side, and when you see them on the ground they are very evocative."

Measuring the prints provides an idea of their owners' height and weight, while their location and positioning gives clues to their lifestyle.

Because of the rich food supplies in marshland coastal areas such as Formby, it took people longer to move from the Mesolithic practice of hunter-gathering towards agriculture.

The Neolithic age footprints support the idea that hunting and collecting was still important to those living along the Sefton coastline, even after farming was common practice.

"We can put together an idea of what people were doing on the beach at that time," explains Adams.

"Last year, there was a massive exposure of hundreds of prints, both adults and children - it looked like they had been having a dance. We think they had been celebrating a hunting kill."

Three sets of human footprints - male, female and child - will be displayed in the "People's Republic" gallery of the Museum of Liverpool, opening at the Pier Head later this year.

They will be the earliest exhibits in the Leaving Your Mark display, showing how people have made their impact on the development of the Merseyside region.

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One Step Forward - 4,000 Years Back; Visitors to the Museum of Liverpool Will Be Invited to Walk in Prehistoric Footprints. Laura Davis Reports
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