The footprints look like they were left behind just moments ago by a barefoot visitor to New Mexico’s White Sands National Park, the amblings of a slightly flat-footed teen, each toe and heel impression crisply defined by a fine ridge of sand.
But this is no tourist track. These prints are among the oldest evidence of humans in the Americas, marking the latest addition to a growing body of evidence that challenges when and how people first ventured into this unexplored land.
According to a paper published today in the journal Science, the footprints were pressed into the mud near an ancient lake at White Sands between 21,000 and 23,000 years ago, a time when many scientists think that massive ice sheets walled off human passage into North America.
Exactly when humans populated the Americas has been fiercely debated for nearly a century, and until recently, many scientists maintained this momentous first occurred no earlier than 13,000 years ago. A growing number of discoveries suggest people were in North and South America thousands of years before…
…After decades of the field centering around a Clovis culture of only 13,000 years ago, change may finally be on the horizon. “I think we will not speak in terms of pre-Clovis possibilities,” Ciprian Ardelean says. “We will speak in terms of pre-White Sands and post-White Sands.”
I haven’t been to White Sands since I retired. There was a time I would pass by there [and stop in for a spell] every three or four weeks. One of the most beautiful places on this planet. Coupling that natural beauty with the earliest human settlers just makes it all the more intriguing.