Tuesday, September 28th 2021, 1:54 pm - The discovery sheds new light on the migration patterns of our ancestors.
Archaeologists have identified human footprints dating back to 23,000 and 21,000 years in New Mexico's White Sands National Park. They represent the oldest known prints in the Americas, and their characteristics have been detailed in a new paper appearing in the journal Science.
Previously, scientists have documented prints dating back about 16,000 years, but past research suggests humans arrived in the Americas 13,000 to 26,000 years ago, indicating there may be older footprints out there, still undiscovered.
The prints were found on exposed outcrops by park manager David Bustos. The study's authors say the discovery helps shed light on the routes humans took to colonize North America. The size of the tracks suggests the area was mainly frequented by teenagers and children, with the occasional adult passerby.
Their age was confirmed through radiocarbon dating, and it is supported by evidence of human interaction of the landscape alongside now-extinct animals, like giant sloths and mammoths.
“We can see the co-existence between humans and animals on the site as a whole, and by being able to accurately date these footprints, we’re building a greater picture of the landscape,” lead author Matthew Bennett, a professor at Bournemouth University, said via Sci News.
“The footprints left at White Sands give a picture of what was taking place, teenagers interacting with younger children and adults. We can think of our ancestors as quite functional, hunting and surviving, but what we see here is also activity of play, and of different ages coming together."