Perhaps they were lying down to take a post-lunch nap when municipal employees Bill Hartley and Rhett Kaiser noticed something unusual above their heads – what appeared to be hoof marks, bird tracks and human footprints on the roof of the cave they were taking shelter in.

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Trace fossils are geological records of biological activity, like footprints, and people who study them are called ichnologists

<p> It was a hot day in 1964 when the two municipal workers decided to eat their lunch in the shade of Bat's Cave close to Nahoon Reef in East London, where they were inspecting the sewerage system. That's when they noticed what looked like tracks and footprints on the roof of the cave.</p><p> The two men had the foresight to report their find to the East London Museum and its exceptional curator, Marjorie Courtenay-Latimer (of coelacanth fame), who confirmed that what they had discovered were indeed fossil footprints.</p><p> The tracks were later identified as those of two antelopes, a bird and a human child, probably under the age of 10 and recently dated to 124 000 years ago, making them the oldest human footprints of their kind.</p><p> They are in fact trace fossils, and reflect the 'positive' tracks after the 'negative' part of the imprint fell down. Although the roof of the cave subsequently collapsed, the slab of rock on which the footprints were found is now housed at the museum. The museum is definitely worth a visit, but better still, you can visit the actual area where the fossils were found, thanks to the museum’s current deputy director, Dr Kevin Cole.</p><p> In a bid to preserve the area for posterity, Cole unearthed a document that showed that King Edward had ceded the coastal land next to Nahoon Reef to the people of East London in 1907, as a reserve.</p><p> Today the 2.6km stretch of pristine coast is part of the Nahoon Point Nature Reserve and a network of boardwalks protects the fragile dune field and leads you to a lookout point where you can see Bat’s Cave, where the footprints were discovered.</p><p> While there, you can visit the educational centre, designed in the shape of a footprint, and enjoy a meal at the Footprints Café with its unspoilt sea view. The centre was sponsored by Mercedes-Benz, which has a large plant in East London. There’s also a display focusing on East London’s famous surfing culture, and the history of shark attacks in the Nahoon area.</p>

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