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Footprints found in New Mexico suggest that humans may have arrived in the Americas earlier than previously thought.
If confirmed, these footprints could rewrite the timeline of the peopling of the Americas.
Scientists have discovered over 60 human footprints, or "ghost tracks," in White Sands National Park in New Mexico. The footprints are between 23,000 and 21,000 years old, which means they were made during the last ice age. This discovery1 pushes back the timeline of human arrival in North America by several thousand years.
The footprints were found by David Bustos, chief of natural and cultural resources at White Sands. He first heard about the "ghost tracks" when he started working at the park in 2005. The footprints are only visible when the ground is wet, and they disappear when it dries out. Bustos and his colleagues were able to track down the footprints using geophysical imaging.
The footprints show that the people who made them were mostly children and teenagers. They were walking barefoot through a patchwork of waterways that defined the White Sands area during the ice age. The footprints were found alongside those of mammoths, giant ground sloths, and other megafauna that flocked to water in the largely arid landscape.
The discovery of these footprints is significant because it provides new evidence that humans were in North America during the last ice age. This challenges the prevailing theory that humans first arrived in North America around 15,000 years ago. The footprints also provide new insights into the lives of prehistoric humans in North America.
The researchers who made the discovery say that the footprints are "a rare and precious glimpse into the lives of our ancient ancestors." They hope that the footprints will help to shed light on the mystery of how and when humans first arrived in North America.
M. Bennett et al. Evidence of humans in North America during the last Glacial Maximum. Science. Vol. 373, September 24, 2021, p. 1528. doi: 10.1126/science.abg7586.