Ancient human footprints found in a dried up New Mexico lake represent a remarkably detailed snapshot of more than 10,000 years ago. A teenage or young adult woman often takes young children a mile through muddy terrain by mail, giant bullets, suede-toothed cats, and terrifying wolves. The traveler then turns and travels again, carrying the childless child, perhaps the toddler, to his destination.
Prints, believed to be the longest known way of early human footprints, tell a dramatic story of fear and perseverance. A new study in the online version of the Quarterly Science Review, shows how the tracks of White Sands National Park were discovered and studied, and what they will add to the ecological (trace fossil) record – and shows us about our Ice Age ancestors.
“This research is important to help us understand our human ancestors, how they lived, their similarities and differences,” said Sally Reynolds, a senior lecturer in hominin paleology at the University of Bournemouth in the UK and co-author of Archaeological Findings. “We imagine this person’s shoes or footprints (and) walking in tough terrain surrounded by potentially dangerous animals is what it’s like to carry a baby by the hand.”
An international team working with National Park Service staff found footprints in the lake strip that contained other prints between 11,550 and 13,000 years old. As the lake dried up, it preserved its footprints for thousands of years.
The small prints appearing on the dots on the shores of the ancient Lake Ter Toro indicate that the caregiver sometimes puts the child down, believing 3 or more. The prints show that the person carrying the baby traveled the same route a few hours later, although the shape of the print indicates that the child was no longer present. Taken together, the prints tell the story of the tax journey, but each track provides even more detailed details: the pace of the mortgage, a slip here, a drag to avoid there.
Reynolds and fellow Bournemouth researcher Matthew Robert Bennett wrote in part about the discovery of The Conversation, “The ground was wet and muddy and he was walking at a pace that was exhausting.”
White Sands National Park is a treasure trove of fossil human and animal footprints. Last year, a team led by Cornell University published a studyTo investigate the movements of large, humans and giant slugs there 12,000 years ago. A giant track that later showed the human footprint left in the same place, giving a rare glimpse of how people and megafauna may have communicated many years ago.
“We never thought of being under the footprints,” said Thomas Urban of Cornell, who contributed to the 2018 chapter as well as the new study, at the time. “But it turns out that silt itself has a memory that beautifully records the effects of animal weight and motion. It gives us a way to understand the biomechanics of extinct fauna that we never did before.”