In the past couple of years, a team of scientists have found what is now the oldest known set of human footprints in North America within White Sands National Park. These footprints are from 21,000 to 23,000 years old. In order to date this, scientists used radio carbon dating on seeds found embedded in the prints.
Based on the stratigraphy of the land, the scientists were able to tell what was happening around and during the time the prints were made. They have found multiple different “tracks” which each house a unique set of prints. Based on their studies, they have found that the area had been under the surface of a lake for the majority of the last 30,000 years, ending with the lake drying up around 10,000 years ago. The footprints were made during a time of drought, when the waterline receded. When the drought ended, the lake level rose and began covering the footprints with layers of silt which preserved them. Footprints there are now revealed through natural means, such as sand blowing and revealing them. Others are specifically searched for by scientists and meticulously excavated.
When studying the tracks, the scientists sought to determine the age of the individuals who had made them. Most of them turned out to be the footprints of teenagers and children. From the relative lack of adult footprints, the scientists think that it was likely due to the adults doing the skilled work, while teens did brunt work and children played.
Beyond what we can learn about the lives of the people who made the prints, these footprints predate when scientists believed humans arrived in North America. This site gives more evidence to the argument that there was human life in North America far earlier than the estimated 13,000 years ago.
White Sands is a place that multiple surrounding Native tribes feel a connection to. These footprints have now become a beautiful way for them to connect with their ancestors. These tribes are currently working to preserve the footprints so humans far in the future can continue to see the marks of humans far in the past.
Bennett, Sukee. “Human Tracks May Be Earliest Evidence of People in North America.” PBS. Public Broadcasting Service, June 8, 2022. https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/article/human-ice-age-footprints-white-sands-national-park/.
“The Discovery of Ancient Human Footprints in White Sands National Park and Their Link to Abrupt Climate Change: U.S. Geological Survey.” The discovery of ancient human footprints in White Sands National Park and their link to abrupt climate change | U.S. Geological Survey. Accessed December 4, 2022. https://www.usgs.gov/programs/climate-research-and-development-program/news/discovery-ancient-human-footprints-white.
Wei-Haas, Maya. “Stunning Footprints Push Back Human Arrival in Americas by Thousands of Years.” History. National Geographic, September 24, 2021. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/history/article/fossil-footprints-challenge-theory-when-people-first-arrived-americas.
What is the currently understood timeline of human migration to the Americas? How was this changed by the discovery of these footprints? Are there any other sites that are similarly if not even more old?