North America’s Oldest Human Footprint Dates Back Over 20,000 Years, Study Confirms

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RESTON, Va. — The oldest fossilized human footprints found in North America date again greater than 20,000 years, new analysis confirms. This revelation aligns with the period when the protection of ice sheets and glaciers on Earth’s floor reached its zenith, generally known as the Final Glacial Most.

The preliminary findings from 2021 sparked world debates inside the scientific group in regards to the accuracy of the decided ages.

“The instant response in some circles of the archeological group was that the accuracy of our courting was inadequate to make the extraordinary declare that people had been current in North America in the course of the Last Glacial Maximum,” says Dr. Jeff Pigati, the co-lead writer of the most recent research, from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), in a media release. “However our focused methodology on this present analysis actually paid off.”

The controversy primarily revolved across the accuracy of the ages, derived from radiocarbon dating. The preliminary age evaluation of the footprints at White Sands Nationwide Park was based mostly on courting seeds from the aquatic plant Ruppia cirrhosa discovered inside the fossilized imprints. Nonetheless, aquatic vegetation can take up carbon from water slightly than the air, presumably resulting in overestimations of age.

Fossilized footprints at the base of the trench in White Sands National Park.
Footprints on the base of the ditch in White Sands Nationwide Park. (credit score: USGS)

“Whilst the unique work was being printed, we had been forging forward to check our outcomes with multiple lines of evidence,” says Kathleen Springer, a USGS analysis geologist and co-lead writer. “We had been assured in our authentic ages, in addition to the sturdy geologic, hydrologic, and stratigraphic proof, however we knew that unbiased chronologic management was vital.”

Of their follow-up research, the researchers turned their focus to radiocarbon courting of conifer pollen, a terrestrial plant supply. This technique sidesteps potential inaccuracies related to courting aquatic vegetation. From the identical sediment layers as the unique seeds, the staff remoted round 75,000 pollen grains per pattern for courting. Impressively, the age derived from the pollen samples matched that of the seeds.

“Pollen samples additionally helped us perceive the broader environmental context on the time the footprints had been made,” provides Dr. David Wahl, a USGS analysis geographer and research co-author. “The pollen within the samples got here from vegetation sometimes present in chilly and moist glacial conditions, in stark distinction with pollen from the fashionable playa which displays the desert vegetation discovered there right this moment.”

Moreover, the USGS staff employed optically stimulated luminescence courting, which determines when quartz grains had been final uncovered to gentle. This methodology revealed that quartz samples from the footprint layers had been at the very least 21,500 years-old, additional corroborating the radiocarbon findings.

The research is printed within the journal Science.

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South West Information Service author Stephen Beech contributed to this report.

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