The discovery of the oldest human footprints in North America excited researchers. It turns out they might not be that old

A joint team of American researchers has contradicted previous claims that fossil footprints found in 2009 in the Lake Otero Basin in New Mexico’s White Sands National Park are the oldest in North America – allegedly from the last Ice Age. The group’s latest work appeared in a recent issue of Quaternary Research.

Last September, researchers at the US Geological Survey radiocarbon dated Ruppia cirrhosa Seeds stuck in the footprints. Their results implied that the footprints were left between 22,800 and 21,130 years ago. Previously, the earliest known humans in North America were dated between 14,000 and 16,000 years ago. If true, the conclusion would turn all possible assumptions in the field on their head.

The team published their findings in Science last year. “It’s a bomb,” noted Ruth Gruhn, an academic archaeologist who was not involved with the study. “It’s very difficult to refute.”

Charles Oviatt, a Kansas State University geologist who helped disprove these claims, recounted inheritance daily this week that he read the original Science article, “and was initially impressed not only by how massive the footprints themselves were, but also by the importance of accurate dating.”

Radiocarbon dating on ancient ditch grass seeds found in the footprints indicated they were made up to 23,000 years ago.  Photo by David Bustos, courtesy of White Sands National Park, New Mexico.

Radiocarbon dating on ancient ditch grass seeds found in the footprints indicated they were made up to 23,000 years ago. Photo by David Bustos, courtesy of White Sands National Park, New Mexico.

Last year, researchers identified possible disruptions due to the “reservoir effect.” underwater plants like Ruppia cirrhosaan underwater ditch grass, may appear much older as it photosynthesizes from the water, which often contains old carbon, rather than from the atmosphere, which would produce a more contemporary picture.

Oviatt joined three colleagues from DRI, the University of Nevada and Oregon State University to arrange the test Ruppia cirrhosa Specimens archived at the University of New Mexico Herbarium. They had originally been collected in 1947, while he was alive, from a nearby spring-fed pond.

The leading commercial radiocarbon laboratory, Beta Analytic, performed dating on these archived samples. The results dated the plants to 7,400 years, “an offset resulting from the plant’s use of ancient groundwater.” inheritance daily written down. If these results were skewed by 7,400 years, there’s a chance the footprints at White Sands actually match existing records.

“While the researchers recognize the problem, they underestimate the basic biology of the plant,” Rhode said. “For the most part, it uses the carbon it finds in lake water. And in most cases, that means it’s picking up carbon from sources other than today’s atmosphere — sources that are usually quite ancient.”

It’s all just the scientific method at work. “The original investigators have made some efforts to back up their claims and I’m told they are still working on it,” Rhode told Artnet News. “They have publicly acknowledged the need for such corroborating evidence to persuade the community at large. There is a lot more work to be done on this now and in the future.”

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