Ancient human ancestry has always been controversial - a never-ending mystery laced with endless twists and turns. Look no further than scientists' latest discovery which left them questioning everything they once thought they knew about our lineage. Here's why...
On September 23, scientists announced the unearthing of a new set of fossils: thousands of preserved footprints, nestled among 80,000 acres of New Mexico's White Sands National Park. Only the trail of prints - seemingly made by both children and teenagers - was like nothing they'd ever seen before. Why? The mysterious fossils dated roughly 23,000 years - a fact that contradicts beliefs scientists once proudly preached.
They date to between ~21,000 -22, 800 years ago!!!! These are simply breathtaking. (They look a little weird because they were made by people walking on a muddy surface and sliding a little as one does). pic.twitter.com/Xoz1Az5TNA— Dr. Jennifer Raff (@JenniferRaff) September 23, 2021
You see, should they be as old as researchers currently estimate, the unearthed footprints are much more than just another discovery: they also mark the oldest set of evidence of human life in North America. As for why that troubles scientists? Up until this point, it was estimated that ancient humans only traveled into the Americas roughly 13,000 years ago. "That starts to wind back the clock," Dr. Reynolds of Bournemouth University explained of the contradiction.
Now, these fossils are unequivocal proof of human existence in North America during the Ice Age - something researchers never dreamed of. But the groundbreaking footprints weren't the only startling discovery that awaited researchers at New Mexico's national park. Much to scientists' amazement, fossils belonging to ancient wildlife were also discovered. From mammoths to camels to giant sloths, the tourist site once housed several ancient species.
"I think this is probably the biggest discovery about the peopling of America in a hundred years," Ciprian Ardelean, an archaeologist at the Autonomous University of Zacatecas in Mexico, assured the New York Times. "I don’t know what gods they prayed to, but this is a dream find."
As for what's next? While the discovery has provided many answers in the scientific community, it also brings a new wave of questions: "We’ve got a lot to do," archaeologist Dr. Ruth Gruhn explained. You can read the new study and all of its detailed findings here.