Fossil footprints reveal Ice Age tale

Zoe’s trail: Scientists have been able to piece together a whole story about one family’s journey. © NPS

Would you like to meet Zoe? Scientists have discovered the longest trail of fossilised human footprints. They tell a story of a young child’s dangerous journey in difficult weather.

What’s happening

A woman walks across muddy land. She carries a toddler in her arms. Sometimes, she lets the child walk. It is raining. A woolly mammoth and a giant sloth pass by.

It might sound like a scene from a film. But scientists studying ancient footprints say it really happened, more than 10,000 years ago.

Find out more

The remarkable tale of this mother and child took place in the last Ice Age. Scientists have uncovered the story with the help of fossilised footprints.

This set of footprints shows a journey of almost a mile, so clear that a team has made a timeline of events.

The prints show a grown-up walking on soft, muddy ground. Every so often, the footprints are joined by much smaller ones. The team guess that it was a mother carrying a toddler, who they have named Zoe.

William Harcourt-Smith was one of the scientists on the team. He was amazed to learn that even in the Ice Age, parents carried their children just as they do today. He explained, “It’s a reminder that these people were just like us”.

Would you like to meet Zoe?

Some say…

Yes! It would be amazing. We could compare lives. It would be fascinating to know what growing up in prehistoric times is like. Zoe and her mother could tell us about mammoths and other ancient animals. We would also be able to find out what we have in common, like loving our families. Of course, we should meet!

Others think…

Maybe not. Zoe is only small and would be terrified! Imagine arriving in the modern world from the Ice Age. She would hate the noise of the cars. The buildings would be huge and scary. And it would be just as difficult if we went back in time. Meeting a giant sloth may sound fun, but in reality it would be very dangerous.

You Decide

  1. Do you think our ancient ancestors were “just like us”?


  1. Imagine you are Zoe’s older sibling and you are on the journey with the pair. Write a diary entry about what you see and how you feel.

Some People Say...

“Archaeology holds all the keys to understanding who we are and where we come from.”

Sarah Parcak, archaeologist

What do you think?

Word Watch

Woolly mammoth
An extinct relative of today’s elephants. They were probably about the size of African elephants. Today, the word “mammoth” has come to mean “huge”.
Giant sloth
This is one of the biggest mammals ever to live on land. It weighed 1,000kg and was about the size of a modern elephant.
Fossils are remains or marks left by living things that are preserved in rock.
Something that happened in a time before written history.
Ice Age
A long period of time when glaciers covered large parts of the Earth. Zoe lived in the Last Glacial Period, around 10,000 years ago.


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