World’s longest fossilized human trackway found at White Sands

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EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — White Sands National Park is known for having the largest gypsum dune fields in the world.

Now it will be known for being the place where a journey from more than 10,000 years ago has been immortalized.

A new paper published in Quaternary Science Reviews documents the world’s longest fossilized human trackway discovered at White Sands National Park.

“I am so pleased to highlight this wonderful story that crosses millennia. Seeing a child’s footprints thousands of years old reminds us why taking care of these special places is so important,” said White Sands National Park’s Superintendent Marie Sauter. 

The ancient footprints of a female or adolescent male and child walking side-by-side were found on a playa at White Sands in 2018. Researchers believe them to be from a female or a young male walking for almost a mile, with a toddler’s footprints periodically showing up alongside. 

This shows, the researchers said, that the person alternated from carrying the child, shifting them from side to side, by how the footprints broadened and slipped in the mud with the additional weight.  

This is not the first time significant fossilized footprints have been found at White Sands. According to park officials, White Sands was designated a megatracksite in 2014. That’s because the park contains the largest collection of ice age (Pleistocene epoch) fossilized footprints in the world, which were made by humans, as well as mammoth, giant ground sloth, dire wolf, and American lion tracks have been found at White Sands. 

While discovered more than 60 years ago, fossilized footprints have been the focus of intense research over the last decade, as the footprints are rapidly being lost to soil erosion.

“What makes the fossilized footprints at White Sands so unique is the incredible interactions we see between humans and other ice age animals,” says White Sands’ Resource Program Manager David Bustos.

In the fossilized prints, traces of children playing in puddles that formed in giant sloth tracks, friends jumping between mammoth tracks and the steady stalking of humans in search of large prey.

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