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Further evidence points to footprints in New Mexico being the oldest sign of humans in Americas

by Michael Nguyen
4 comments
Archaeological Discovery

Fresh research affirms that fossilized human footprints discovered in New Mexico likely constitute the oldest direct evidence of human habitation in the Americas, significantly altering established archaeological notions regarding our ancestors’ arrival in the New World.

These intriguing footprints were unearthed on the periphery of an ancient lakebed within White Sands National Park and have been dated to approximately 21,000 to 23,000 years ago, as detailed in a recent publication in the journal Science. This revelation bears potential implications for radiocarbon dating, which could face a deviation of thousands of years from prior assumptions.

The study introduces two distinct lines of supporting evidence for this revised timeframe. Firstly, it incorporates two entirely disparate materials unearthed at the site: ancient conifer pollen and quartz grains.

The previously accepted consensus among archaeologists suggested that human presence in the Americas occurred only a few millennia before the submergence of the Bering land bridge linking Russia and Alaska due to rising sea levels, estimated at approximately 15,000 years ago.

“This is a subject that’s always been controversial because it’s so significant — it’s about how we understand the last chapter of the peopling of the world,” remarked Thomas Urban, an archaeological scientist from Cornell University, who participated in the 2021 study but not the recent one.

Thomas Stafford, an independent archaeological geologist based in Albuquerque, New Mexico, who was not part of the study, expressed initial skepticism but now finds himself convinced. He emphasized the significance of multiple methods aligning on a single age range.

The recent study involved the meticulous isolation of around 75,000 pure pollen grains from the same sedimentary layer containing the footprints. Kathleen Springer, a research geologist at the United States Geological Survey and co-author of the paper, acknowledged the painstaking and anxiety-inducing nature of dating pollen. Scientists consider radiocarbon dating of terrestrial plants to be more precise than aquatic ones, but the sample size needs to be substantial for analysis.

Additionally, the research delved into the assessment of accumulated damage within the crystal lattices of ancient quartz grains to derive an age estimate.

The existence of ancient footprints, regardless of their origin—human or megafauna such as large cats and dire wolves—affords archaeologists a glimpse into a particular moment in history, preserving the nuances of how individuals or creatures traversed landscapes and whether their paths intersected. White Sands has also yielded animal footprints alongside these human ones.

While certain archaeological sites in the Americas do indicate similar date ranges, scientists remain cautious in ascertaining whether these materials definitively establish human presence. Nevertheless, the unambiguous nature of the footprints found in White Sands sets them apart, eliminating any ambiguity regarding their human origin, according to Jennifer Raff, an anthropological geneticist at the University of Kansas, who was not involved in the study.

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Archaeological Discovery

What is the significance of the footprints discovered in New Mexico?

The footprints found in New Mexico are highly significant as they challenge prior beliefs about human presence in the Americas. They suggest that humans were in the region over 20,000 years ago, upending the conventional idea of their arrival.

How were the footprints dated?

The dating of the footprints involved two distinct methods. Firstly, ancient conifer pollen and quartz grains found at the site were analyzed. Secondly, accumulated damage in the crystal lattices of ancient quartz grains was assessed to estimate their age.

Why is the age of these footprints important?

The age of these footprints is vital because it reshapes our understanding of when humans first inhabited the Americas. The previous consensus was that humans arrived much later, but this discovery pushes that timeline back considerably.

Are there other sites with similar date ranges?

While there are other archaeological sites in the Americas indicating similar date ranges, scientists remain cautious about their significance. The uniqueness of White Sands lies in the unambiguous nature of these human footprints, eliminating doubt about their origin.

What impact could this discovery have on archaeology?

This discovery has the potential to reshape the field of archaeology by challenging established timelines and forcing a reevaluation of the peopling of the Americas. It prompts scholars to reconsider long-held beliefs about the migration of early humans.

More about Archaeological Discovery

  • [Science Journal Article](link to the Science journal article)
  • [White Sands National Park](link to White Sands National Park website)
  • [Radiocarbon Dating](link to an explanation of radiocarbon dating)
  • [Archaeological Discoveries](link to a resource on significant archaeological discoveries)
  • [Native American History](link to a resource on Native American history and migration)

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4 comments

ScienceGeek1 October 6, 2023 - 3:18 am

Age of those prints mind-blowing! What else r we gonna discover? Exciting!

Reply
HistoryBuff22 October 6, 2023 - 8:11 am

fascinating stuff, like, old footprints tellin’ us new stories, wow!

Reply
HistoryExplorer October 6, 2023 - 9:00 am

Thx for da info, gr8 job summarizin’ complex stuff. ✌️

Reply
ArchaeoNerd October 6, 2023 - 9:56 pm

footprints = time capsules, cool way 2 look back, yea?

Reply

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