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Ice Age Footprints Rewrite History of Humans in America

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Ice Age footprints at White Sands National Park in New Mexico rewrite history of humans in America. Credit: National Park Service

Ice Age human footprints found at White Sands National Park in New Mexico are rewriting the history of humans in America.

Scientists recently announced that the footprints are 23,000 years old, which means they are from the last Ice Age.

The results have rekindled the question of how humans first arrived in the Americas. The footprints seem to suggest that these early travelers traveled across the continent when it predominately constituted of glaciers and ice.

“I think this is probably the biggest discovery about the peopling of America in a hundred years,” said Ciprian Ardelean, an archaeologist at Autonomous University of Zacatecas in Mexico, who is not part of the research team studying the footprints. “I don’t know what gods they prayed to, but this is a dream find.”

The footprints are notable for bolstering the argument of researchers who believe that humans actually arrived in the Americas at the onset of the Ice Age. The dominant belief amongst archaeologists has for decades been that people spread across North and South America as the last Ice Age was nearing its end.

This theory was supported by the oldest known tools discovered on the continent, including spear tips, needles, and scrapers, which were found to be thirteen thousand years old. The artifacts were referred to as “Clovis,” the name of the area in New Mexico where they were first discovered.

Scientists were particularly swayed by this argument because the age of the Clovis artifacts perfectly aligned with the end of that Ice Age. From this, they developed the narrative that held that the Siberian hunter-gatherers came to Alaska during the Ice Age and remained there for decades until the glaciers receded and allowed them the ability to migrate south to the rest of the continent.

However, other researchers began to cast doubts on these beliefs in the 1970s. Archeologists began exposing evidence suggesting that humans were present in North America much earlier than people assumed. Archaeologist Ciprian Ardelean and his colleagues had published a report as recently as last year that detailed that stone tools from a cave in Mexico were 26,000 years old.

Other archeologists have challenged these reports. Ben Potter, an archeologist at the Arctic Studies Center in Liaocheng University in China, said he believed that those “tools” could easily be misshapen rocks that researchers mistook for man-made objects. Potter added that dates archaeologists attributed to their findings could be dubious and that tools and artifacts that merge with underlying sediment might falsely seem older than they are.

Ice Age Footprints Bring Different Kind of Evidence of Human Activities

The study out of White Sands National Park, however, brings a different kind of evidence to the table—one that is less prone to error than artifacts and tools: namely footprints.

Footprints were discovered by David Bustos, the resource program manager at White Sands National Park. He requested that a team of scientists analyze the prints.

The team has found thousands of footprints throughout the eighty thousand acre park during their time working with Bustos. They have found footprints that show a mother resting her baby on the ground and others that were made by a person walking in a perfectly straight line for over a mile. Lastly, there were footprints that appear to have belonged to children.

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