Footprints in Time Tell an Intriguing Story from the Ice Age

View of White Sands National Park, in New Mexico. Chitrapa, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

By Jim Brace-Thompson

Footprints from the Ice Age have long been found in spots around White Sands National Park in New Mexico. The area once hosted a huge lake, and the prints are found along what would have been muddy shoreline flats. Most often, these are animal tracks, including quite large ones left behind by mammoths. After enduring thousands of years, they frequently deteriorate and crumble away not long after exposure to the elements.

Fortunately, a new set of tracks reported in a recent issue of the journal Quaternary Science Reviews was found and analyzed when still relatively freshly exposed on the surface. The tracks are over 10,000 years old and extend nearly a mile, making them the longest human trackway found to date from the Ice Ages. And they seem to tell something of a little story.

Revealing Possible Scenario

The footprints show a person (suspected to be a woman due to the prints’ size) walking out along the lake and back and occasionally slipping on the slick mud. She could be excused for slipping because she cradled a young child on its hip. The depths of the prints are uneven.

Here and there, the left foot seems to be more deeply imprinted than the right foot, suggesting that the woman shifted her child from one hip to the other as she walked. How do we know for sure she had a child with her at all? Because at several places, small prints that might fit a three-year-old suddenly march alongside the larger prints.

Based on the length of the strides, researchers say the pair was in a hurry. Why so?

At spots, the fossilized human prints are crisscrossed by prints of gigantic mammoths and ground sloths. Perhaps Junior wanted a visit to the Pleistocene Zoo, but Mom noticed no fences separated them from the wildlife? Time to hurry back home, Junior!

Author: Jim Brace-Thompson

JimBraceThompson Jim began and oversees the AFMS Badge Program for kids, has been inducted into the National Rockhound & Lapidary Hall of Fame within their Education Category, and is the president-elect for the American Federation of Mineralogical Societies,
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