Oldest human footprints in North America found in New Mexico

Fossilized footprints discovered in New Mexico indicate that early humans were walking across North America around 23,000 years ago, researchers reported Thursday. In a landmark study published on 23 September in Science1, researchers suggest that human footprints from an ancient lakeshore in the park date to between 21,000 and 23,000 years old, reported AP. If the dating is accurate — which specialists say is likely — the prints represent the earliest unequivocal evidence of human occupation anywhere in the Americas.

White Sands National Park, in southern New Mexico, is known for chalk-coloured dunes that stretch for hundreds of square kilometres. But at the height of the last Ice Age, the region was wetter and grassier. Mammoths, giant sloths and other animals walked the muddy shores of shallow lakes that grew and shrank with the seasons. The first footprints were found in a dry lake bed in White Sands National Park in 2009. Scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey recently analyzed seeds stuck in the footprints to determine their approximate age, ranging from around 22,800 and 21,130 years ago. The current study provides a more solid baseline for when humans definitely were in North America, although they could have arrived even earlier, the authors say. Fossil footprints are more indisputable and direct evidence than “cultural artifacts, modified bones, or other more conventional fossils,” they wrote in the journal Science, which published the study Thursday. “What we present here is evidence of a firm time and location,” they said.