Oldest known human footprints in North America discovered at White Sands National Park

New Mexico

EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — Fossilized footprints near El Paso reveal oldest known human footprints in North America.

Research conducted at White Sands National Park uncovered evidence of human occupation in the Tularosa Basin starting at least 23,000 years ago.

The discovery means that humans lived in the region thousands of years earlier than previously believed.

“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,” said park Superintendent Marie Sauter.

The fossilized footprints were preserved in multiple layers of gypsum soil on a large playa at White Sands National Park.

Researchers analyzed seeds that were embedded in the footprints using radiocarbon dating that was analyzed by the U.S. Geological Survey to determine the age.

The research significantly extends the range for the coexistence of human and Ice Age megafauna, which confirms the presence of humans in North America before the major glacial advances at the peak of the last Ice Age closed migration routes from Asia.

White Sands National Park contains the largest-known collection of Pleistocene age (Ice Age) fossilized footprints in the world, and is recognized as a mega tracksite.

Scientists have also uncovered tracks from the Columbian mammoth, saber-toothed cat, dire wolf, and other Ice Age animals.

Researchers from White Sands National Park, the National Park Service, U.S. Geological Survey, Bournemouth University, University of Arizona and Cornell University, in connection with the park’s Native American partners all collaborated and consulted on the research.

Detailed findings can be found in the journal Science.

“This study illustrates the process of science – new evidence can shift long held paradigms,” said USGS Acting Rocky Mountain Regional Director Allison Shipp. 

For more information on White Sands National Park, click here; for our complete coverage of New Mexico, click here.

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