Earliest known evidence of humans in America discovered in New Mexico. Credit: NPS, USGS and Bournemouth University

Discovery Rewrites History of Human Presence in the Americas

Results show that there was human presence around 7-10 thousand years earlier than most of the existing evidence for the arrival of humans in the New World.

Paleoanthropologists from the United Kingdom and the United States have found 61 distinct human footprints in Pleistocene deposits in New Mexico. Radiocarbon dating from paleobotanical samples showed that the tracks were left about 21-23 thousand years ago, which makes them reliable evidence of the human presence in America during the last glacial maximum. 


Scientists discovered the oldest human footprints in America: Everything you need to know

When did people migrate to America?

Despite a lot of archaeological research carried out over the past century, the question of when people migrated to America is still far from being solved. America became the last part of the world (with the exception of Antarctica), which was inhabited by humans. However, the chronology of this process remains quite controversial.

Clovis Culture

For a long time, the most ancient inhabitants of the New World were associated with the Clovis culture, which existed in North and Central America between 13.5 and 10.8 thousand years ago. However, with the accumulation of archaeological material during the 20th century, it became clear that man, apparently, arrived in America earlier – this gave rise to the concept of “pre-Clovis”, the dates of which differ.

Artist's impression of young humans in the ice age and how their footprints were formed. Credit: Karen Carr
Artist’s impression of young humans in the ice age and how their footprints were formed. Credit: Karen Carr

Populated multiple times

In 2020, researchers summarized the collected data and proposed the concept that America has been populated multiple times. The first settlers reached the new continent about 30 thousand years ago.

Second wave

The second wave took place during the last glacial maximum and is genetically related to the inhabitants of the Paleolithic site of Malta in Siberia. The third wave belongs to the first Greenlandic interglacial (about 14.9-16.7 thousand years ago).

Artist's impression of the ancient shore of a wetland where scientists discovered the human footprints. Credit: Karen Carr
Artist’s impression of the ancient shore of a wetland where scientists discovered the human footprints. Credit: Karen Carr

Not all researchers accept this version

However, not all researchers accept this concept, since there are not very many reliable traces of a person’s early stay in America. Usually, archaeologists get tools and bones, but they are more difficult to interpret. Footprints, in turn, show attitudes, behavior and prove a person’s presence.

New research

Matthew Bennett from the University of Bournemouth, together with scientists from the United States, presented the results of excavations carried out in White Sands National Park in New Mexico. Paleoanthropologists have found human footprints on several stratigraphic horizons, which also contained botanical remains.

Ancient human footprints discovered in a trench at the site. Credit: National Park Service/USGS/Bournemouth University
Ancient human footprints discovered in a trench at the site. Credit: National Park Service/USGS/Bournemouth University

61 ancient human footprints

In sediments formed by lacustrine clays and silt, scientists have recorded 61 human footprints, as well as several footprints left by proboscis animals and dogs.

Clearly distinguishable ancient footprints

Human footprints are clearly distinguishable and they show the prints of the heels, longitudinal arches of the foot, as well as the pads of the toes. Most of the prints were made by children and adolescents.

"Ghost tracks" in the White Sands area. Credit: NPS, USGS and Bournemouth University
“Ghost tracks” in the White Sands area. Credit: NPS, USGS and Bournemouth University

Radiocarbon dating

Scientists have carried out radiocarbon dating of the remains (n ​​= 11) of an aquatic plant of the genus Ruppia ( Ruppia ) found in the sediments.

Results

Its results showed that traces were left in the interval between 22.86 ± 0.32 and 21.13 ± 0.25 thousand years ago. Thus, paleoanthropologists came to the conclusion that people in the southwestern United States lived already during the last glacial maximum.


Join the discussion and participate in awesome giveaways in our mobile Telegram group. Join Curiosmos on Telegram Today. t.me/Curiosmos


Sources:

Bennett , M. R., Bustos, D., & Pigati, J. S. (2021, September 24). Evidence of humans in North America during the last Glacial Maximum. Science.
Black, R. (2021, September 23). Footprint discovery hints at humans in the Americas more than 20,000 years ago. Scientific American.
Callaway, E. (2021, September 23). Ancient footprints could be oldest traces of humans in the Americas. Nature News.
Magazine, S. (2021, September 24). Prehistoric footprints push Back timeline of Humans’ arrival in North America. Smithsonian.com.
Wei-Haas, M. (2021, September 24). Stunning footprints push back human arrival in Americas by thousands of years. History.

Written by Vladislav Tchakarov

Hello, my name is Vladislav and I am glad to have you here on Curiosmos. My experience as a freelance writer began in 2018 but I have been part of the Curiosmos family since mid-2020. As a history student, I have a strong passion for history and science, and the opportunity to research and write in this field on a daily basis is a dream come true.

Write for us

We’re always looking for new guest authors and we welcome individual bloggers to contribute high-quality guest posts.

Get In Touch