Human footprints found in New Mexico may be even older than scientists originally thought, dating back more than 20,000 years.
In 2021, American and British archaeologists estimated that footprints found in White Sands National Park in southern New Mexico were between 21,000 and 23,000 years old. This suggests some of the earliest evidence of human activity in the Americas, some 10,000 years earlier than previously believed.
However, many scientists were skeptical. But a follow-up study published Thursday in the journal Science confirmed those findings based on radiocarbon dating, which examines decay that is up to 60,000 years old.
Footprints found in White Sands National Park in New Mexico date back 23,000 years, making them the first “unequivocal evidence” of homo sapiens in the New World thousands of years earlier than most estimates.
Dr. Jeff Pigati, principal investigator of the 2021 study and a geologist at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in Denver, said: “Each dating technique has strengths and weaknesses, but when three different techniques converge in the same range of age, then the result Ages are exceptionally robust.
Study co-author Dr Kathleen Springer of the USGS added: “Our original results were controversial and we knew from the beginning that we needed to independently assess the ages of the seeds to develop community confidence in them. This paper is that corroborative exercise.’
Homo sapiens emerged in Africa more than 300,000 years ago and then migrated around the world. Scientists believe our species entered North America from Asia by crossing a land bridge that once connected Siberia to Alaska.
The footprints, which are flat, a possible sign that the people were barefoot, reveal more than just a date, researchers said. They offer a glimpse of what life was like during the Upper Paleolithic, which began about 40,000 years ago.
Previous archaeological evidence had suggested that human occupation of North America began about 16,000 years ago, according to study co-author Dr. Matthew Bennett, professor of environmental and geographic sciences at Bournemouth University in England.
‘Indigenous people were there earlier than previously thought, before the great ice shelf at the height of the Last Glacial Maximum closed the path south from Alaska. By what route and how they got there has yet to be determined. White Sands is just a dot on the map for now,” he said.
“The work confirms the timeline we established in 2021 for the site using independent methods, laboratories and approaches.”
Most of the tracks were left by teenagers and younger children, with occasional tracks from adults, as well as some from mammoths, giant ground sloths and dire wolves, the researchers said.
“The footprints left at White Sands give a picture of what was happening: teenagers interacting with younger children and adults,” Dr. Bennett said in 2021.
Previous tracks found on the White Sands trail indicate that young humans were hunting giant ground sloths in the area by deliberately stepping on the animal’s tracks.
Other studies have found evidence that people lived on the North American continent thousands of years earlier than previously believed.
In July 2020, stone tools were discovered in a cave in Mexico known as Chiquihuite that revealed archaeological evidence of human occupation dating back to 27,000 years ago.
In 2018, 150,000 “unique” stone tools were found northwest of Austin, Texas, suggesting people lived on the continent 20,000 years ago.
In 2019, human footprints dating back 15,600 years were found in Chile, which at the time were believed to be the oldest known human footprints in the Americas.
White Sands, designated a megatrack site in 2014, contains the world’s largest collection of fossilized footprints from the Pleistocene era, dating from 2.58 million to 11,700 years ago.