Footprints are the first undisputed evidence that humans have ever been found in the Americas during the so-called Last Ice Maximum.
The researchers write that in the magazine Science. In the center is a decent collection of footprints found in White Sands National Park, located on the southern border of the United States. Dating indicates that the oldest footprints are around 23,000 years old. “This corresponds to the highest point of the last glacier, also called the last glacial maximum, and in fact the oldest footprints we know of in the Americas,” said researcher Kathleen Springer.
Children and adolescents
Judging by their size, the footprints appear to have been left mostly by adolescents and young children. Only a few fingerprints are attributed to adults. People left their marks while digging in the soft mud by a shallow lake. In addition to the 23,000-year-old footprints, somewhat more recent footprints have also been found; together they testify that the people were present here for a period of about 2000 years.
Giant wolves and mammoths
And people weren’t the only ones walking there; Footprints of mammoths, birds, large land sloths and large wolves have also been found in the same area. “This is an important place, because all the traces we found here are testimony to human interaction in a landscape that was also home to extinct animals such as mammoths and land sloths,” said researcher Sally Reynolds. We can see how people and animals coexisted here and dating the footprints also gives us a better idea of what the landscape looked like at the time.
Go out together
But what makes the discovery of these footprints particularly interesting, of course, is that the oldest footprints are no less than 23,000 years old. For years, scientists have been the subject of heated debate about when the first humans arrived in America. It is generally believed that this was not until after the melting of the North American ice caps, around 16,000 years ago. But the footprints prove that people have already set foot in America. “White Sands provides us with the first unequivocal evidence of the presence of humans in the Americas during the last ice maximum,” said researcher Dan Odess.
Important for previous finds
In recent years, there have been tentative indications that humans roamed the Americas already over 16,000 years ago. But these clues were not very convincing on their own. “One of the reasons why this discovery (footprints, note) is so important is that it makes more plausible the idea that other very old sites really indicate the presence of humans – even if the evidence that these sites contain are less convincing. This does not mean that all of these sites are real (and therefore were left behind by humans over 16,000 years ago, editor’s note), but it does mean that we cannot immediately exclude this.
Finally, the engravings also give us a unique glimpse into the life of these first “Americans”. “The footprints left at White Sands give a picture of what happened here,” said researcher Matthew Bennett. “Adolescents interacting with young children and adults. We can see our ancestors as very functional people who engaged in hunting and survival, but what we see here is that they also played and people of different ages came together.
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