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Volunteer Stephe Cove cleaning a red deer footprint
Culture & Heritage

Our volunteers follow in the footsteps of the Bay's ancient inhabitants

Forests, Footprints and Fauna

Morecambe Bay's ever-shifting sands regularly expose ancient land surfaces where prehistoric communities hunted thousands of years ago. A prehistoric woodland landscape is revealed by fallen tree stumps embedded in the clays and its use by Stone Age hunter-gatherers is preserved as animal remains and footprints.

These clay layers found on the shoreline around Walney and the Duddon Estuary would once have looked very different. The sea level would have been lower, Walney was part of the mainland, and the whole area would have been a mix of peat bogs, estuarine silts, reedbeds and woodland.

This was the perfect environment for prehistoric people to find food and other resources. It was also perfect for preserving their footprints and those of the animals they hunted.

People and animals walked through the soft wet silts of the floodplain leaving footprints. These then had time to dry and harden before a new layer of mud was deposited. These layers built up over time protecting the footprints until recent coastal erosion washed the covering away.

The land surfaces and features are exposed through tidal processes and storms, sometimes only for a matter of hours before the next tide removes all evidence that they were there. People from this period of history left little evidence for their daily activities so we must record these clues before they are lost forever.

Thanks to generous funding from the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society our volunteers have been trained by prehistoric footprint specialist, Dr Alison Burns, to find, identify and record these traces of past communities. They will be monitoring this fascinating part of the coast for new exposures of the prehistoric land surface and reporting any evidence of footprints, bones, tools or plants they find.

On our first visits to South Walney, we discovered trails of prints left by the red and roe deer which roamed the area, some of which you can see in the photos above. We also found the remains of tiny reed roots and a larger piece of vegetation which may help us to radiocarbon date the clay layer.

Later visits to Walney have revealed a short trail of human footprints. The size of these prints suggests they were made by a child. In some of the images below, you can see where they have dragged their toe through the mud!

Our latest visit to Walney, in December, reinforced how important it is for us to go out and record these remains. Most of the clay layer we have been looking at had washed away and we could only find a few footprints. We did see signs that there are more layers underneath the sand that may become visible in future.

In the meantime, we will be out looking for new sites to survey in the coming months.

Found any footprints you think may be ancient?

Let us know

Missed the Forests, Footprints and Fauna Sunset Series talk?

Watch it on YouTube