Exciting new research from a team of archeologists in New Mexico shows that humans likely reached the Americas far earlier than previously thought. A hotly debated topic in the scientific community, previous research placed the arrival of humans in the North American interior around 16,000 years ago, but new evidence suggests they may have arrived a whole 7,000 years before that.
The team of researchers discovered a set of human footprints which they have dated to between 23,000 and 21,000 years old. Found in the soft mud near an ancient shallow lake which now forms part of Alkali Flat in White Sands, the footprints suggest that there are multiple previously unknown human migrations in the Americas and that some earlier populations could have even gone extinct.
The radiocarbon dating was conducted by a team from the US Geological Survey. The footprints, which appear to belong to teenagers or young adults walking back and forth in the area, offer insights into what life was like for the earliest inhabitants of the Americas. Based on the tracks, the researchers have hypothesized that the creators of the prints could have been collecting firewood or hunting.
Footprints hold significant weight in the field of population dating as they cannot migrate between layers of sediment like tools or bones can. The researchers are confident in their assertions even after taking into account the “reservoir effect”—the phenomenon in which carbon can sometimes get recycled in aqueous environments, making some layers appear older than they are.
These new footprints suggest that humans arrived in the North American interior by the height of the last Ice Age, offering insights and of course provoking new questions on the movement of our ancestors on this planet.
Image source: BBC