Scientists have discovered human footprints dating back 300,000 years and the oldest ever found in Germany.
Experts believe the perfectly preserved footprints were left by a Heidelberg family, a long-extinct human species.
The footprints were discovered at the Paleolithic site of Schöningen in the Harz mountains.
Ancient animal footprints, including the first evidence of elephants in the area, have also been found at the site.
The Heidelberg people, officially known as Homo heidelbergensis, were the first known humans to build houses and regularly hunt large animals.
They have been identified in Africa and western Eurasia from about 700,000 years ago until about 200,000 years ago.
The discovery of the footprint was made by an international research team including scientists from the University of Tübingen in Germany.
The study’s lead author, Dr Flavio Altamura, said: “For the first time, we have carried out a detailed investigation of the fossil footprints from two sites in Schöningen.
“Among the footprints there are three tracks that match hominid footprints – with an age of around 300,000 years, these are the oldest known human tracks in Germany and were most likely left by Homo heidelbergensis.
“Based on the tracks, including those of children and teenagers, this was likely a family outing rather than an adult hunting party.”
Dr Altamura said the findings confirmed that the extinct human species “lived on the shores of lakes or rivers with shallow water”.
“Depending on the season, plants, fruits, leaves, shoots and mushrooms were available around the lake,” he added.
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The team also analyzed a series of tracks thought to be those of Palaeoloxodon antiquus, an extinct species of elephant and the largest land animal of the time.
The creatures had straight tusks, and adult bulls weighed up to 12 tons.
The latest discovery comes after evidence of human footprints dating back more than 800,000 years was found in 2014 on the Norfolk coast.