Those who have fishermen in the family know that the tales of fishing trips are often folkloric at their best. But would you be surprised to hear that ancient tales of a fishing trip, and perhaps some footprints to document the trip, may be one of the most important archaeological finds of the decade? Well it turns out neither did the pair of fishermen whose ever move was recorded below them in a shifting seabed, 5,000 years ago in the frigid waters of the southern Baltic Sea.
Earlier this week archaeologists with the Denmark Museum Lolland-Falster revealed the discovery of two sets of human footprints and some Stone Age fishing gear in a dried up "fjord", or inslet, on the island of Lolland in Denmark. Discovered alongside a fishing fence tool that dates back as far as roughly 3,000 B.C., the footprints are the first of their kind discovered in Denmark. And the team of archaeologists is interested to see what other tracks will reveal about ancient man's behavior around the Baltic Sea.
"This is really quite extraordinary, finding footprints from humans" researcher Terje Stafseth, who was involved with the archaeological excavation, says. "Normally, what we find is their rubbish in the form of tools and pottery, but here, we suddenly have a completely different type of trace from the past: footprints left by a human being."
The Stone Age footprints are estimated to date back as far as 5,000BC to 2,000 BC, to the time when water levels in the Baltic Sea were rising due to melting glaciers in northern Europe, and prehistoric people were able to use the inlets as bountiful fishing grounds. The individuals that made the footprints constructed elaborate fishing fences to catch their prey, and researchers say that the large wooden fences which interconnected to create a single continuous trap, were likely the cause of the footprints.
"What seems to have happened was that at some point they were moving out to the [fish fence], perhaps to recover it before a storm" project manager for the Museum Lolland-Falster, Lars Ewald Jensen says. "At one of the posts, the footprints were found on each side, where someone had been trying to remove it from the sea bottom."
And thankfully the footprints were perfectly preserved in time courtesy of some stormy weather.
For more than a year, the team of archaeologists have been fighting against the clock, attempting to carefully and yet quickly collect as many artifacts from Denmark's past, before they're swept away forever. And the find of the footprints came fortunately in time, only months before construction is slated to begin on the Fehmarn Belt Fixed Link, an underwater tunnel that will connect Lolland with the German island of Fehmarn, and likely destroying many artifacts in the process. The tunnel will be built with several above-ground facilities that will cover dried up fjords, much like where the footprints and fishing artifacts were found, however, researchers are hopeful that they still may be able to uncover many more artifacts before the timeline runs out and construction begins.