10,000-Year-Old Tracks Unveil the Perilous Journey of Two Humans

The toddler and the caregiver were stalked by a wooly mammoth and a giant sloth.
Utku Kucukduner

Footprints are a common sight in White Sands National Park in New Mexico with its visitors from around the globe. But the latest discovery of 10,000-year-old tracks belonging to an adolescent (or a small-framed female) and a child reveals a much more uncomfortable journey than those visiting today.

See, the white dunes of the Tularosa Basin are a new geographic feature, relatively speaking. During the ice age that held the Earth in its grip for tens of thousands of years, it was wetter and more abundant in vegetation. There were grasslands stretching as far as the eye can see apparently.


In many cases, abundant vegetation brings about biodiversity and megafauna too. So it shouldn't come as a surprise that this stretch of land was frequented by saber-toothed cats, dire wolves, giant sloths, and wooly mammoths.

The prints are believed to be the longest known trackway belonging to humans. Sally Reynolds and Matthew Robert Bennett told The Conversation "We can put ourselves in the shoes, or footprints, of this person (and) imagine what it was like to carry a child from arm to arm as we walk across tough terrain surrounded by potentially dangerous animals."

Indeed, more evidence suggests that the journey was no casual Sunday stroll. The tracks express a great amount of information. A slip here and there, a long step there to jump over a puddle. The ground was wet and slippery with mud, and the duo was pacing vigorously, which is bound to be exhausting. The team estimates they were walking at about 5.57 ft/s (1.7 mt/s), whereas us humans usually walk at about 3.93 ft/s (1.2 mt/s) to 4.92 ft/s (1.5 mt/s) on a flat and dry surface.

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At several points along the line, there are tracks belonging to a child. The team hypothesizes that the carrier had to set the child down to get in a more comfy posture or make a short rest. The tracks belonging to the child are found on the way back but they are nowhere to be seen during the return trip, which suggests the child was dropped off at the destination.

Another evidence that the child was carried was also hidden in the tracks. They were broader due to added weight and had more morphological variations, and a banana-shaped gait — something characterized by outward rotation of the foot.

Additionally, a mammoth track that was left on top of human tracks also gave the researchers a rare glimpse into how megafauna and humans have crossed paths.

The paper will be published in Quaternary Science Reviews this December.

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