Footprints dating back 23,000 years have been found in the United States, suggesting humans settled in North America long before the end of the last Ice Age, research published Thursday showed.
The findings push back thousands of years from the date the continent was colonized by its first inhabitants.
The footprints were left in the mud on the shores of a long-dried up lake, which is now part of a New Mexico desert.
The sediments filled the footprints and hardened into rock, protecting the evidence of our former parents and giving scientists a detailed glimpse into their lives.
“Many traces seem to be those of adolescents and children; large adult fingerprints are less common, ”write the authors of the study published in the American journal Science.
“One hypothesis in this regard is the division of labor, in which adults are involved in skilled tasks while ‘fetch and carry’ is delegated to adolescents.
“Children accompany teens, and collectively they leave more footprints.”
Researchers also found traces left by mammoths, prehistoric wolves, and even giant sloths, which appear to have existed at the same time humans visited the lake.
The Americas were the last continent to be reached by humanity.
For decades, the most commonly accepted theory has been that settlers came to North America from eastern Siberia across a land bridge – the present-day Bering Strait.
From Alaska, they headed south to milder climates.
Archaeological evidence, including spearheads used to kill mammoths, has long suggested a 13,500-year-old colony associated with the so-called Clovis culture – named after a town in New Mexico.
This was considered the first civilization on the continent and the forerunner of the groups that came to be known as Native Americans.
However, the notion of Clovis cultivation has been challenged over the past 20 years, with new discoveries that have pushed back the age of the first stands.
In general, even this postponed estimate of the age of early settlements did not exceed 16,000 years after the end of the “last ice maximum”, the period when the ice caps were most extensive.
This episode, which lasted until about 20,000 years ago, is crucial because it is believed that with the ice covering much of the north of the continent, human migration from Asia to North America and beyond that would have been very difficult.
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