Ancient human traces found in a dry lake in New Mexico show a very detailed snapshot from more than 10,000 years ago. An adolescent or small adult female carries a child nearly a mile across muddy terrain frequented by mammoths, giant sloths, soft-toothed toads and balloons. Then the traveler turned and returned to the journey, without the child pulling, perhaps transporting the baby to its destination.
Copies, believed to be the longest-known trackway of early human traces, tell a dramatic story of danger and perseverance. A new online study edition of the Quaternary Science Review details how the tracks were discovered and studied in White Sands National Park, and what they added to the ichnological record (trace fossil) – and presented at us about our ancestors in the Ice Age.
“This research is important in helping us understand our human ancestors, how they lived, their similarities and differences,” said Sally Reynolds, senior lecturer in hominin paleoecology at Bournemouth University in the UK and co-founder author of the study of archaeological discovery. “We can put ourselves in the shoes, or footprints, of this person (and) imagine what it is like to carry a child from arm to arm as we walk on hard ground surrounded by potentially dangerous animals. “
An international team working with personnel from the National Park Service found footprints on a lake containing other prints back between 11,550 and 13,000 years. As the lake dries up, it maintains footprints for thousands of years.
Smaller copies appearing at points along the shores of ancient Lake Otero indicate the caregiver occasionally lowered the child, believed to be 3 or younger. Copies show the person carrying the child to make a trip back to the same path after a few hours, even if the shape of the prints indicates that the child is gone. Taken together, the prints tell the story of a taxing journey, but each track offers more specific details: a step speed, a slip on it, a stretch there to avoid a puddle.
“The ground is wet and smooth with mud and they walk at a fast pace, which is tiring,” Reynolds and fellow Bournemouth researcher Matthew Robert Bennett wrote in a piece about the discovery in The Conversation.
White Sands National Park contains a wealth of fossilized traces of humans and animals. Last year, a team led by Cornell University published a study onto investigate the movements of mammoths, humans and giant sloths there from 12,000 years ago. A large track showed a trace of man left in the same place later, giving a rare glimpse into how humans and megafauna could communicate so many years ago.
“We didn’t think to look under footprints,” said Thomas Urban of Cornell, who contributed to the study in 2018 as well as the new one, “But it turns out that the sediment itself has a memory that records of the effects of the weight and momentum of the animal in a beautiful way. It gives us a way to understand the biomechanical killed animals that we have never experienced. ”