Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

January 3, 2024

Title:  Ancient human footprints in North America during the Last Glacial Maximum

Speakers:  Kathleen Springer and Jeff Pigati, Research Geologists, Geosciences and Environmental Change Science Center 

Date:  January 12, 2024 at 2:00 pm Eastern/11:00 am Pacific

Archaeologists and researchers in allied fields have long sought to understand human colonization of North America. Questions remain about when and how people migrated, where they originated, and how their arrival affected the established fauna and landscape. Here, we present evidence from excavated surfaces in White Sands National Park (New Mexico, United States), where multiple in situ human footprints are stratigraphically constrained and bracketed by seed layers that yield calibrated radiocarbon ages between ~23 and 21 thousand years ago. Independent chronologic techniques have recently confirmed the accuracy of these ages. This timing coincided with a Northern Hemispheric abrupt warming event, Dansgaard-Oeschger event 2, which drew down lake levels and allowed humans and megafauna to walk on newly exposed surfaces, creating tracks that became preserved in the geologic record.These findings confirm the presence of humans in North America during the Last Glacial Maximum, adding evidence to the antiquity of human colonization of the Americas and providing a temporal range extension for the coexistence of early inhabitants and Pleistocene megafauna.  

Scientist examines sediment layers with pegs marking parts of the layers
USGS scientist Jeff Pigati collects pollen for radiocarbon dating at the site where human footprints were found in order to estimate the age of the footprints. Pollen also provides a picture of what kind of vegetation existed at the time that the footprints were made.

Get Our News

These items are in the RSS feed format (Really Simple Syndication) based on categories such as topics, locations, and more. You can install and RSS reader browser extension, software, or use a third-party service to receive immediate news updates depending on the feed that you have added. If you click the feed links below, they may look strange because they are simply XML code. An RSS reader can easily read this code and push out a notification to you when something new is posted to our site.