Archaeologists have discovered what they believe to be the oldest known human footprints in North America, according to new scientific studies.
The ancient footprints were discovered during the study in the White Sands National Park in New Mexico, with researchers estimating that the tracks were between 21,000 and 23,000 years old, according to Science.
Scientists from the US Geological Survey analysed seeds embedded in the prints to assess the age of the fossils, which were buried in layers of soil in the national park. Researchers also established that a dozen footprints discovered belonged to a variety of persons, most of them were children and teenagers.
Previously, experts commonly considered that the earliest appearance of people in the Americas occurred between 11,000 and 13,000 years ago, based on stone spears discovered throughout North America and related with the Clovis culture.
“The evidence is very convincing and really exciting,” says Tom Higham, an archaeological scientist and radiocarbon-dating expert at the University of Vienna, in an interview with Nature. “I am confident that these tracks are, in fact, of the indicated age.”
Experts from White Sands National Park, the National Park Service, the US Geological Survey, Bournemouth University, the University of Arizona, and Cornell University collaborated on the new study.
“The research makes a very convincing argument that these footprints are not only human but also over 20,000 years old,” said Spencer Lucas, a palaeontologist at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science in Albuquerque, to Nature. “Wow, that’s a game-changer.”