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Footprint discovery is oldest American?

12 July 2005

Photo of 'footprint' fossil © Bournemouth University

Photo of 'footprint' fossil © Bournemouth University

Researchers have discovered what could be earliest evidence of human occupation found so far in the Americas.

Dr Silvia Gonzalez, from the Liverpool John Moore University, and her team discovered over 260 footprints in 2003 in the floor of an abandoned quarry. The Quarry was located about 5 km from the town of Puebla in central Mexico.

Footprint fossils, which need very special conditions for their permanent preservation, had been preserved in volcanic ash laid down on the exposed shoreline of an ancient lake.  About 160 of the footprints are thought to be human (with 60 made by children’s feet) with the remainder belonging to birds, wild cats, dogs and mammals with cloven feet such as camels and giant ox.

Closely associated with the human prints were shells which had been baked in the ash. The shells have been carbon-dated and found to date back to more than 38,000 years ago. This pushes back the frequently accepted date for when humans first arrived in the Americas by well over 20,000 years.

“If true, this would completely change our view of how and when the Americas were first colonised,” said Chris Stringer, head of human origins at the Natural History Museum.

Some scientists believe that more evidence is needed before agreeing with the announced research results and
that more evidence needs to be presented  to prove that the ‘human footprints’ really are genuine and not  some other markings.

The team’s findings were unveiled at the UK Royal Society's Summer Science Exhibition and the research is due to be fully published in the journal Quaternary Science Review.