"Astonishingly old" human footprints preserved in the ground across New Mexico's White Sands National Park have been determined to date back about 23,000 years to the Ice Age, a finding which, if certified, "would rejuvenate the scientific debate about how humans first spread across the Americas," The New York Times reports.
"I think this is probably the biggest discovery about the peopling of America in a hundred years," said Ciprian Ardelean, an archaeologist at Autonomous University of Zacatecas in Mexico who was not involved in the discovery. "I don't know what gods they prayed to, but this is a dream find."
For years, many archaeologists have maintained that humans "spread across North and South America only at the end of the last ice age," writes the Times. And starting in the 1970s, some researchers began to go back even further for humanity's presence in North America — some 26,000 years. But of the fossils and ancient finds they pointed to to support such a hypothesis, "none of them are unequivocal," said archaeologist Ben Potter; layers of sediment, perhaps, may have made a find appear older than it really is.
The footprints, however, are far more definitive pieces of evidence that suggest humans journeyed across the Americas "when massive glaciers covered much of their path," writes the Times. "What is fascinating about the study of footprints is that they present snapshots in time," said Dr. Mathew Stewart, a zooarchaeologist not involved in the study.
"This is a bombshell," added Ruth Gruhn, another archaeologist, of the study. "On the face of it, it's very hard to disprove."
On that note, Dr. Potter said he would still like to see some stronger data; if it is true, however, he notes the discovery would have "some profound implications." Read more at The New York Times.