Oldest human fossil footprints in North America found in New Mexico

Photo showing fossilized human footprints (© National Park Service/AP Images)
These fossilized human footprints were discovered at White Sands National Park in New Mexico. (© National Park Service/AP Images)

A team of scientists from the United States and Britain discovered footprints that indicate evidence of human life in North America during the last ice age.

Researchers identified fossil footprints at White Sands National Park in New Mexico that date back 23,000 years. Scientists had believed that modern humans had arrived on the continent no earlier than 13,000 years ago, based upon tools archeologists had discovered. The latest finding could represent a scientific breakthrough, providing a firmer timeline of when people first came to the Americas.

David Bustos, the resource program manager at the White Sands National Park in New Mexico, first discovered the footprints in the park in 2009. He and Matthew Bennett, a geologist at Bournemouth University in the United Kingdom, and other scientists studied the site more closely in September 2019.

Researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) then confirmed that seeds found inside the footprints are approximately 23,000 years old.

“These incredible discoveries illustrate that White Sands National Park is not only a world-class destination for recreation but is also a wonderful scientific laboratory that has yielded groundbreaking, fundamental research,” White Sands National Park Superintendent Marie Sauter said in a statement.

The research team published the findings in the September 24 edition of the journal Science. Their findings explain more about the earliest arrival of humans in North America.

“I think this is probably the biggest discovery about the peopling of America in a hundred years,” Ciprian Ardelean, an archaeologist at Autonomous University of Zacatecas in Mexico, told The New York Times.

Scientists from White Sands National Park, the National Park Service, USGS, Bournemouth University, University of Arizona and Cornell University, in connection with the park’s Native American partners, collaborated and consulted on this research, USGS said.

White Sands National Park is part of the U.S. national park system, which has been called “America’s best idea” because of its preservation of natural beauty as well as its openness to all.