Footprints left by Ice Age hunter-gatherers and recently discovered in a US desert shed new light on the earliest human inhabitants of North America.
Dozens of fossilized footprints found in dry river beds in western Utah are revealing more details about how the continent’s original inhabitants lived more than 12,000 years ago – just as the frozen planet was beginning to thaw.
The fossils might have gone unnoticed had it not been for a chance glimpse from a moving car as researchers Daron Duke and Thomas Urban drove through Hill Air Force Base talking about footprints.
“We talked about, ‘What would they look like?'” Duke told AFP. “And he said: Like, out the window.”
What the two men found turned out to be 88 different footprints left by a mix of adults and children.
“They vary between looking like discolored spots on the floor and … little pop-ups, little bits of dirt around or on them. But they look like footprints,” Duke said.
What then followed was a tedious couple of days of very careful digging – sometimes lying on my stomach – to make sure what they saw was as old as it appeared.
“What I found were bare feet of people… stepping into what appeared to be shallow water where there was a layer of mud,” Duke explained.
“The moment they pulled their foot out, the sand filled that up and preserved it perfectly.”
Duke of the Nevada-based Far Western Anthropological Research Group was in the area looking for evidence of prehistoric bonfires built by the Shoshone, a people whose descendants still live in the western United States.
He had brought Urban over from Cornell University for his expertise in uncovering evidence of ancient humans — including the discovery of human footprints in New Mexico’s White Sands National Park, believed to be as old as 23,000 years.
– ‘reverence’ –
The new fossils join a wealth of other finds from the area, including stone tools, evidence of tobacco use, bird bones and campfire remains, beginning to provide a more complete record of the Shoshone and their continued presence in the region from 13,000 years earlier.
“These are the resident Native Americans of North America, this is where they lived and this is where they still live today,” Urban said.
For him personally, finding the footprints was a professional highlight.
“When I…realized that I was digging a human footprint, I saw toes, I saw the thing in pristine condition…I was just kind of in awe,” he said.
“Nothing beats the sense of discovery and awe that as an archaeologist you actually pursue your whole career.”
And sharing the discovery with the distant descendants of the people who made the prints is immensely rewarding, Urban said.
“You can feel the same thing happening — which is the connection to something so distant in the past and to something so human, I think it reaches everyone in one way or another.”
#Ice #Age #footprints #shed #light #early #humans #North #America