Prehistoric Footprints Suggest People Came To The Americas Earlier Than Thought Early human footprints in New Mexico's White Sands National Park have fascinated researchers for years, but a recent study proposes the so-called "ghost tracks" are even older.

Prehistoric Footprints Suggest People Came To The Americas Earlier Than Thought

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


To an untrained eye, White Sands National Park in New Mexico looks like a 227-square-mile sandbox. But the park's resource program manager, David Bustos, says not only does it have a thriving ecosystem but just below the surface, White Sands contains literal footprints of a past long gone.

DAVID BUSTOS: We found really incredible mammoth prints. And we found elongated prints that look, you know, possibly like they could be human.


It took years to confirm them because a lot of these prints were not always visible.

BUSTOS: Sort of come and go with soil moisture. So they might always be there. But they're below the surface.

MARTINEZ: There are acres of so-called ghost track clusters around the park.

KING: And each of these sets of footprints tells a different story. There are stories of kids playing, of people foraging for food and even hunting animals, like the giant ground sloth.

BUSTOS: You can see a person runs right up to the sloth, you know, chest to chest, almost standing on their tiptoes. And the sloth spins around. And there's claw marks on the ground. And then another person comes up from the other direction. And the first person that ran up to the sloth, he steps backwards. So you can see the heel just stepping really deeply.

MARTINEZ: These prints have been studied for years. But it was always difficult to estimate how old they were until now. Bustos is co-author of a new study that suggests humans might have been in North America thousands of years before we originally thought.

BUSTOS: The common date is around 13,000 years ago. And so that pushes it back quite a ways.

KING: After analyzing some of the footprints, scientists determined that human beings may have been in North America as early as 21,000 years ago.


Copyright © 2021 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.