New research has brought forth compelling evidence that fossilized human footprints discovered in New Mexico could be the oldest direct proof of human existence in the Americas. These findings challenge the previously held belief among archaeologists regarding the timing of our ancestors’ arrival in the New World.
These ancient footprints were unearthed near an ancient lakebed in White Sands National Park and have been dated to roughly 21,000 to 23,000 years ago. This revelation was published in the journal Science.
Initial estimates of the footprints’ age were reported in 2021 but faced scrutiny from researchers who questioned whether radiocarbon dating might be skewed due to ancient carbon absorbed by aquatic plant seeds used in the dating process.
The new study introduces two additional pieces of evidence to support the earlier date range. It relies on two entirely different materials found at the site: ancient conifer pollen and quartz grains.
The reported age of these footprints challenges the conventional belief that humans arrived in the Americas only a few thousand years prior to the submersion of the Bering land bridge between Russia and Alaska, approximately 15,000 years ago.
Thomas Urban, an archaeological scientist at Cornell University, noted the significance of this discovery in understanding the final stages of human migration across the world.
Independent archaeological geologist Thomas Stafford from Albuquerque, New Mexico, expressed his confidence in the findings, especially when multiple dating methods converge on a single age range.
The study painstakingly isolated approximately 75,000 pure pollen grains from the sedimentary layer containing the footprints, showcasing the challenges of dating pollen. Researchers also assessed damage in the crystal lattices of ancient quartz grains to estimate their age.
Ancient footprints, whether left by humans or megafauna, offer glimpses into moments in history, capturing how individuals or creatures moved and interacted. While other archaeological sites in the Americas suggest similar timeframes, questions remain about whether these materials truly indicate human presence.
However, White Sands stands out as a unique site, leaving no room for doubt that these footprints were left by people, as confirmed by anthropological geneticist Jennifer Raff from the University of Kansas.