Archaeology

French Archaeologists Make ‘Unprecedented Discovery’ of What May Be the Remains of a Roman-Era Mausoleum


In what archaeologists are hailing “an unprecedented discovery” for the region, the remains of a set of Gallo-Roman buildings—including what might be a funerary monument—have been excavated in a residential district in Néris-les-Bains, a town in Auvergne, France.

Undertaken by a team from the French National Institute of Preventive Archaeological Research (INRAP), the dig located the remnants of a group of structures delimited by a road. They include two buildings with a partially legible plan, two others represented by walls with tiles bound in lime mortar, and a pipe network. The northwestern segment of the plot houses a large pit. 

It was close to this pit that archaeologists uncovered a number of relics that have helped date the site to the Gallo-Roman period from the 1st to 5th century.

The archaeologists clearing relics at the Néris-les-Bains site. Photo: © Marie-Laure Thierry, INRAP.

They include a fragment of a modillion, an elaborate cornice that would have decorated the top structure of buildings, and a pilaster, a rectangular column carved with interlocking leaves and topped by a figurine. A conical architectural element measuring some 55 inches in diameter was also found, its surface carved with scales and its back holding an anathyrosis frame, indicating it was meant to be joined to a similar piece as part of a circular spire. 

More notable is the discovery of 21 sandstone blocks—“a big surprise,” Marie-Laure Thierry, head of the operation at INRAP, told La Montagne. Once cleaned with water and a sponge, archaeologists found they were adorned with bas-reliefs that “have an unprecedented character for Néris-les-Bains, even for Auvergne,” added Thierry.

The most “representative” relief, according to the team, is a frieze fragment, measuring about 27 by seven inches, which portrays Triton, Greek god of the sea, with his arms spread, hair long, and tentacles ending in palm leaves. He is flanked on his right by a horse (or more probably, a seahorse), with only its two front legs visible. 

The sandstone blocks showing bas-reliefs of a possible mausoleum at the archaeological center of Clermont-Ferrand. Photo: © Marie-Laure Thierry, INRAP.

The combination of the frieze, the conical spire (with scales recalling the sea god), and the ornate cornice have led researchers to associate the finds with mausoleums that were constructed in the 1st and 2nd centuries. The motif depicting a figure from Greek and Roman mythology, in particular, symbolizes the journey of blessed individuals into the afterlife. “It was certainly not the tomb of ordinary mortals,” said Thierry of the monument. 

Other comparable funerary structures have been identified in Auvergne, from Aulnat to Mont-Dore, where similar artifacts representing Triton were found.

The INRAP team plans to carry out detailed studies of the architectural blocks to support its early hypothesis and further illuminate the history of Néris-les-Bains. The town, best known for its thermal baths (its name derives from Nérios, Gallic god of the spring), was colonized by Rome in the early centuries—a period borne out by the number of Roman and Gallic ruins and relics, including an amphitheater, that have been excavated in the area since the 19th century. 

According to INRAP, the recent discovery of the settlement and its artifacts could well open “a new window on the occupation of this peripheral and little-known sector of the ancient agglomeration of Néris-les-Bains.”

 

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English Quarry Workers Have Struck Elizabethan-History-Lover’s Gold With the Discovery of a Rare 16th-Century Ship


Last April, workers dredging for gravel in a quarry just outside Dungeness in Kent, England inadvertently turned up the remains of a shipwreck. Perplexed by the discovery, they called upon the services of Wessex Archaeology, which swiftly recognized the historical significance of the find, determining it to be a 16th-century vessel, one of the very few from the era to have survived.

Wessex Archaeology would excavate more than 100 timbers that made up the ship’s hull, with support and funding from Historic England. These components—from the massive planks to the round pegs pinning these boards together—were crafted out of English oak, which, through dendrochronological analysis, has been dated to between 1558 and 1580. 

“To find a late 16th-century ship preserved in the sediment of a quarry was an unexpected but very welcome find indeed,” Andrea Hamel, the marine archaeologist at Wessex Archaeology who was first on the scene, said in a statement. “The ship has the potential to tell us so much about a period where we have little surviving evidence of shipbuilding, but yet was such a great period of change in ship construction and seafaring.”

Remains of a rare 16th-century ship found at a quarry in Kent. Photo: © Wessex Archaeology.

The late 16th century marked a transitional period in ship construction as much as a remarkable time of growth in England’s maritime trade.

In Northern Europe, shipbuilding was evolving from traditional clinker builds, where planks are overlapped rather than joined (most commonly seen on Viking longships), to frame-first construction, where the internal hull is built before planking is added. This latter technique is best evidenced by the Mary Rose, Henry VIII’s most notable warship that was deployed from 1510 to 1545. 

The reign of Queen Elizabeth I further saw the expansion of England’s naval commerce, spurred on by the formalizing of trade with Russia, Turkey, and Venice. Tellingly, the majority of known shipwrecks from the late Tudor period have been designated the remains of merchant vessels, including the Gresham Ship, which was located in the Thames Estuary in 2004.

Archaeologist laser-scans the remains of a rare 16th-century ship found at a quarry in Kent. Photo: © Wessex Archaeology.

The wreck in Kent was found some 984 feet from the sea, in a quarry that experts deem could once have been on the coastline. Having been locked deep in waterlogged shingle, the remains have been exceptionally preserved.

“Some of the samples we have still feel so fresh that you can smell the tar,” said Hamel on the January 1 episode of BBC’s Digging for Britain series, which documented the team’s efforts in excavating and studying the vessel’s hull.

Every piece unearthed by Wessex Archaeology has been digitally photographed and laser-scanned, allowing scientists to build a complete 3D model of a vessel now estimated to measure more than 82 feet-long and weigh about 150 tons. The ship, though, remains unidentified. 

Once their study is complete, archaeologists will rebury the ship close to where it was found, as the timbers are in danger of shrinking and losing all detail the more they dry out. By returning the remains to the environment, the team hopes to preserve them in situ.

“Hopefully, as techniques change,” Hamel added, “future archaeologists could go back and recover the ship and do more work on it.”

 

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Ancient Stone Tools Once Thought to be Made by Humans Were Actually Crafted by Monkeys, Say Archaeologists


Experts are reevaluating prehistoric Pleistocene-era sites in Brazil previously believed to have been home to ancient humans. It turns out, the 50,000-year-old stone tools discovered in excavations are probably the work of capuchin monkeys, not early humans.

“We are confident that the early archeological sites from Brazil may not be human-derived but may belong to capuchin monkeys,” wrote archaeologist Agustín M. Agnolín and paleontologist Federico L. Agnolín in an article published in the new issue of the journal the Holocene.

Excavations at Pedra Furada, a group of 800 archaeological sites in the state of Piauí, Brazil, have turned up stone shards believed to be examples of simple stone tools. Made from quartzite and quartz cobbles, the oldest ones appear to be up to 50,000 years old, which would put them among the earliest evidence of human habitation in the Western Hemisphere.

However, the tools also bear a striking resemblance to the stone tools currently made by the capuchin monkeys at Brazil’s Serra da Capivara National Park.

The monkeys have their own rock quarries, where they select substantially sized rocks to use as hammers to crack nuts against a larger, flattened anvil rock. Rocks also come in handy for eating seeds and fruits—and the monkeys even lick the dust created from driving two rocks together, possibly as a way of adding minerals to their diets.

Stone tools assist capuchins with other tasks as well, such as digging. And the females throw rocks at potential mates as a way of demonstrating sexual interest.

All of these processes can lead to the stones breaking into smaller flaked pieces—which, the new study found, are indistinguishable from some ancient stone tools carved by early humans.

Pebble tools from Pre-Clovis sites in Brazil: A, Vale da Pedra Furada artifacts; B, Toca da Tira Peia artifacts. Photos courtesy of <em> Elsevier</em>.

Pebble tools from Pre-Clovis sites in Brazil: A, Vale da Pedra Furada artifacts; B, Toca da Tira Peia artifacts. Photos courtesy of Elsevier.

“Our study shows that the tools from Pedra Furada and other nearby sites in Brazil were nothing more than the product of capuchin monkeys breaking nuts and rocks some 50,000 years before the present,” Federico Agnolín, a researcher at the Argentine Museum of Natural Sciences, told Argentina’s National Scientific and Technical Research Council (CONICET).

The possibility that monkeys were responsible for the human-looking lithic deposits at Pedra Furada was first raised in 2017 by archaeologist Stuart J. Fiedel in the journal PaleoAmerica, noting that capuchins may have been using tools for 100,000 years. Similar concerns were discussed in the journal Quaternaire in 2018.

Stone pounding implements used by capuchin monkeys in Brazil. Photo by Tiago Falótico.

Stone pounding implements used by capuchin monkeys in Brazil. Photo by Tiago Falótico.

A 2019 study published in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution was the first to examine stone tool-making practices of the capuchin population at the Serra da Capivara.

Coupled with the lack of other evidence of human habitation from 50,000 years ago, such as concrete traces of dietary remains or hearths—charcoal at the site could have originated from naturally occurring fires—the tools’ resemblance to rock fragments created by monkeys calls into question the likelihood that humans were responsible for their creation.

The new findings could have a major impact on our understanding of when the first humans arrived in the Americas. Pleistocene archeological sites from Brazil are among the most compelling evidence that people lived on the continents prior to the end of the last Ice Age.

Capuchin monkey fracturing nuts using a rock as a hammer and a larger one as an anvil in Northeast Brazil. Photo by Tiago Falótico, courtesy of CONICET.

Capuchin monkey fracturing nuts using a rock as a hammer and a larger one as an anvil in Northeast Brazil. Photo by Tiago Falótico, courtesy of CONICET.

The once-predominant “Clovis first” theory long held that glaciers prevented significant settling of the Western Hemisphere until around 14,000 years ago. In recent decades, archaeological sites like the Buttermilk Creek complex in Texas, which has evidence of human inhabitants dating back 15,000 years, and Monte Verde in Chile, dated as early as 18,500 years ago, have challenged that hypothesis. There is growing acceptance of the theory that during the Ice Age, people began settling along a coastal entry route.

But support for a Pre-Clovis human presence received a setback last month, when new testing called into question the dating of fossilized footprints at New Mexico’s White Sands National Park to 22,800 to 21,130 years ago—making them the oldest evidence of human occupation of North America. It now appears the seeds used to date the markings may have ingested ancient carbon from the waters of Lake Otero, leading to inaccurate, artificially ancient dating.

Now, Brazil’s capuchin monkeys may have landed another blow against the Pre-Clovis faction.

“Our work reinforces the idea that the human settlement of this part of the American continent is more recent and is in line with the studies that determine its arrival some 13,000 or 14,000 years before the present,” Agustín Agnolín, of Argentina’s National Institute of Anthropology and Latin American Thought, added. “This questions the hypotheses that proposed an excessively old settlement of South America.”

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An Ancient Middle Eastern City Destroyed by a Meteor May Have Inspired the Bible’s Tale of Sodom and Gomorrah, a New Study Says


New research suggests that the ancient Bronze Age city of Tall el-Hamman, in modern-day Jordan, was destroyed by a meteor—and that the catastrophic event could have inspired the Bible’s tale of Sodom and Gomorrah.

The city, located in the southern Jordan Valley near the Dead Sea, reached its zenith some 3,600 years ago. At the time, about 50,000 people lived in the valley’s three major cities and surrounding regions. Tall el-Hamman itself was home to some 8,000 residents, who lived mud brick homes of up to five stories.

An airburst meteor explosion appears to have been the city’s downfall, according to a new paper published in the journal Nature Scientific Reports.

An asteroid blew up into a massive fireball about 2.5 miles above the Middle Eastern city, instantly killing the town’s 8,000 residents as temperatures on the ground skyrocketed to 3,600 degrees, according to the news site the Conversation. The explosion would been followed in seconds by a 740-mile-per-hour shockwave with the force of a nuclear weapon, reducing buildings to rubble and instantly transforming the thriving metropolis into a smoking wasteland.

If that is how Tall el-Hamman met its end, it would have been similar to the destruction of the two sinful Old Testament cities in the Book of Genesis.

Researchers stand near the ruins of Tall el-Hammam's ancient walls, with the destruction layer about midway down each exposed wall. Photo by Phil Silvia, Creative Commons <a href=https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/4.0/ target="_blank" rel="noopener">Attribution-NoDerivs 4.0 Generic</a> license.

Researchers stand near the ruins of Tall el-Hammam’s ancient walls, with the destruction layer about midway down each exposed wall. Photo by Phil Silvia, Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 4.0 Generic license.

“Then the Lord rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah—from the Lord out of the heavens,” the Bible reads. “Thus He overthrew those cities and the entire plain, including all those living in the cities—and also the vegetation in the land.”

The paper’s authors contend that winds from the blast also would have impacted the nearby city of Jericho, knocking down its walls and setting it afire. The Old Testament also recounts the Israelites’ conquering of Jericho in the Book of Joshua, with the city’s walls falling after the army marched around the city four times and sounded their trumpets.

Solving the mystery of what happened took 15 years of excavation and careful study, with 21 archaeologists, geologists, geochemists, geomorphologists, mineralogists, paleobotanists, sedimentologists, cosmic-impact experts, and medical doctors collaborating on the final paper.

Archaeologists studying the ruins Tall el-Hamman found what they called the destruction layer: A mix of charcoal, ash, and melted pottery that was five feet thick—the kind of devastation that comes from superheated temperatures of a firestorm, ruling out human warfare and other natural disasters such as a volcano, earthquake, fire, or tornado as its cause.

The extent of the cosmic airburst at Tunguska, Siberia (1908), superimposed on the Dead Sea area. Image by Phil Silvia, Creative Commons <a href=https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/ target="_blank" rel="noopener">Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic</a> license.

The extent of the cosmic airburst at Tunguska, Siberia (1908), superimposed on the Dead Sea area. Image by Phil Silvia, Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic license.

The team used the online impact calculator, a tool developed by impact experts, to model scenarios that matched the physical evidence, compared to the effects of known impact events and nuclear detonations. Of the 17 observations, only a meteor matched all the data.

A cosmic airburst sounds like an otherworldly event, but other instances have been documented, such the explosion over Tunguska, Russia, in 1908. Such explosions are rare, with thousands of years between known events. Tall el-Hamman is the second-earliest airburst to be identified, after one in Abu Hureyra, Syria, which experts believe was destroyed by a comet some 12,800 years ago, and may represent the first written record of such a catastrophic event.

The Tall el-Hamman meteor was probably larger than the one that struck Tunguska, but no bigger than 200 to 250 feet across.

“Otherwise, the object would have hit the ground and created a large crater like Meteor Crater in Arizona,” study coauthor Allen West, of the Comet Research Group, told Forbes.

Spherules made of melted sand (upper left), palace plaster (upper right) and melted metal (bottom two) found in the ruins of Tall el-Hammam. Photo by Malcolm LeCompte, Creative Commons <a href=https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/4.0/ target="_blank" rel="noopener">Attribution-NoDerivs 4.0 Generic</a> license.

Spherules made of melted sand (upper left), palace plaster (upper right) and melted metal (bottom two) found in the ruins of Tall el-Hammam. Photo by Malcolm LeCompte, Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 4.0 Generic license.

The team behind the research was quick to clarify that their discovery was not definitive evidence that the Bible account was based on a true story.

“All the observations stated in Genesis are consistent with a cosmic airburst,” study coauthor James Kennett, professor of earth science at U.C. Santa Barbara, said in a statement, “but there’s no scientific proof that this destroyed city is indeed the Sodom of the Old Testament.”

Nevertheless, the evidence is compelling.

Furnace experiments indicated that the melted mudbricks had reached temperatures of 2,700 degrees. Tiny melted spherules found in the destruction layer were made when vaporized iron and sand reached 2,900 degrees. There were melted metallic grains of iridium (which has a melting point of 4,435 degrees), platinum (3,215 degrees), and zirconium silicate (2,800 degrees).

Electron microscope images of numerous small cracks in shocked quartz grains found in the ruins of Tall el-Hammam. Photo by Allen West, Creative Commons <a href=https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/4.0/ target="_blank" rel="noopener">Attribution-NoDerivs 4.0 Generic</a> license.

Electron microscope images of numerous small cracks in shocked quartz grains found in the ruins of Tall el-Hammam. Photo by Allen West, Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 4.0 Generic license.

Other signs indicating there had been a massive explosion included tiny grains of shocked quartz that only form under 725,000 pounds per square inch of pressure, and carbon in the form of tiny microscopic diamonoids, each smaller than a virus, that likely came from plants exposed to super high temperatures and pressure.

The area around Tall el-Hamman lay fallow for 600 years following the blast—possibly because the explosion also impacted the nearby Dead Sea, scattering its salty waters across the Jordan Valley and making the formerly arable land sterile. To this day, excavators found that salt would leach out of the destruction layer into the morning dew, leaving a white crust atop the ruins each day.

“Any survivors of the blast would have been unable to grow crops and therefore are likely to have been forced to abandon the area,” the study said.

We can expect similarly destructive cosmic events to happen every few thousand years, the paper continued: “although the risk is low, the potential damage is exceedingly high.”

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The Oldest Human Footprints in North America Could Redefine Prehistory as We Know It—and It’s All Thanks to These Tiny Seeds


New data on prehistoric footprints suggest they are the earliest ever found in North America, dating to 23,000 years ago—thousands of years before humans were previously believed to have made their way to the continent.

David Bustos, an archaeologist and resource program manager at New Mexico’s White Sands National Park, found the tracks at the park in 2009 on the shore of a lake that has long since become a desert. The impressions ancient humans left behind in the mud on what is now known as Alkali Flat have fossilized over the centuries, becoming rock.

Scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey conducted radiocarbon dating on large quantities of seeds from Ruppia cirrhosa, an aquatic ditch grass, which were stuck in the footprints. They determined that the marks were made between 22,800 and 21,130 years ago. The new analysis was published Friday in the journal Science.

“This is a bombshell,” Ruth Gruhn, a University of Alberta archaeologist not involved in the study, told the New York Times. “On the face of it, it’s very hard to disprove.”

Researchers excavating prehistoric footprints in the bottom of a trench at White Sands National Park, New Mexico. Photo by Dan Odess, courtesy of the National Park Service.

Researchers excavating prehistoric footprints in the bottom of a trench at White Sands National Park, New Mexico. Photo: Dan Odess. Courtesy of the National Park Service.

It’s unlikely, but possible, that the seeds could have absorbed old carbon leached into the water by nearby rocks in a “reservoir effect.” But the scientists dated hundreds of seeds and found that the ages were consistent across the board, with older seeds on the bottom and younger ones at the surface.

Assuming the dating is correct, that means that prehistoric humans settled in North America either before or during the last Ice Age, rather than after it, fundamentally changing the timeline of our species and our world.

“This new study provides the first unequivocal evidence of a sustained human presence in the Americas thousands of years earlier than most archaeologists thought was likely,” Thomas Urban, a research scientist with the Cornell Tree Ring Laboratory, said in a statement.

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

Since the 1930s, when the archaeologist Edgar B. Howard discovered an ancient spear tip near Clovis, New Mexico, the prevailing theory has been that the first prehistoric humans in North America were the Clovis people. They had made their way across a now-submerged land bridge connecting Siberia and Alaska around 13,500 to 13,000 years ago and spread throughout the continent.

But the “Clovis First” theory has been challenged in recent years by other archaeological finds, leading to divisions within the field.

“The peopling of the Americas is one of those things that has been for many years very contentious, and a lot of archaeologists hold views with almost religious zeal,” the paper’s lead author, Matthew Bennett of Bournemouth University in the U.K., told CNN.

Footprints found at White Sands National Park in New Mexico, providing the earliest evidence of human activity in the Americas. Photo courtesy of the National Park Service/U.S. Geological Survey/Bournemouth University, U.K.

Footprints found at White Sands National Park in New Mexico providing the earliest evidence of human activity in the Americas. Photo courtesy of the National Park Service/U.S. Geological Survey/Bournemouth University, U.K.

In 1979, Canadian archaeologist Knut Fladmark hypothesized that the first humans to reach North America did so via small boats. His theory seemed unlikely given that the continent’s coast would have been blocked by giant glaciers.

But it gained traction in 1997 with the discovery of Monte Verde, an archaeological site in coastal Chile, that was found to be 14,500 years old—a millennium older than the earliest Clovis site.

Other finds have followed, including an Oregon cave 200 miles inland with 14,300-year-old human feces, traces of a 15,000-year-old campfire in Idaho, and the 15,000-year-old Buttermilk Creek Complex in Texas. Perhaps oldest of all is the Chiquihuite Cave in Zacatecas in central Mexico, where experts have dated stone tools to 30,000 years ago.

Some Clovis researchers question the dating of those sites, but the reliable dating of the footprints makes it more likely that at least some other pre-Clovis finds are also accurate, and that the first migrations to the Americas began before the Ice Age.

Researchers testing seeds found embedded in the footprints. Photo courtesy of Bournemouth University, U.K.

Researchers testing seeds found embedded in the footprints. Photo courtesy of Bournemouth University, U.K.

“Our work has shown that the ice sheets were probably controlling entry into North America, but that we had made it in one glacial cycle earlier,” Sally Reynolds, a mammalian paleontology professor at Bournemouth University and study co-author, told Vice. “Working back from that, we think that at around 30,000 years ago, humans would have traveled from Siberia over the Bering land bridge.”

Other experts contend there were ice-free, settler-friendly zones in pockets up and down the coast of North America that could have allowed humans to move inland before the ice sheets melted. (The Atlantic recently published an article about the search for pre-Clovis sites on California’s Channel Islands, where archaeologists are focusing their efforts on submerged areas that would have been above sea level in prehistoric times.)

If there were indeed human beings in the Americas before the Clovis people, their populations appear to have died out, perhaps during the ensuing Ice Age. Genetic testing of contemporary Indigenous people shows that the Native American line diverged from Asia some 16,000 years ago.

Children and teenagers left most of the prehistoric footprints. Photo courtesy of Bournemouth University, U.K.

Children and teenagers left most of the prehistoric footprints. Photo courtesy of Bournemouth University, U.K.

Based on the new radiocarbon dating results, experts believe that the former lake in White Sands was continually occupied by humans for around 2,000 years—and that the lake shrank over time as temperatures rose.

“When that warming occurred,” Jeff Pigati, a geologist at the U.S. Geological Survey and one of the paper’s coauthors, told Gizmodo, “the lake level dropped and exposed this big flat area for people to walk across. That’s what allowed the tracks to be there in the first place. This entire story is driven by climate change.”

Tens of thousands of years later, the footprints are fragile formations of clay and silt. Judging by their size, experts believe they mostly belonged to children and teenagers with flat feet, thanks to being constantly barefoot.

These footprints are North America's oldest sign of human settlement. Photo by David Bustos, courtesy of White Sands National Park, New Mexico.

These footprints are North America’s oldest sign of human settlement.
Photo: David Bustos. Courtesy of White Sands National Park, New Mexico.

“The footprints left at White Sands give a picture of what was taking place, teenagers interacting with younger children and adults,” Bennett said in a statement. “We can think of our ancestors as quite functional, hunting and surviving, but what we see here is also activity of play, and of different ages coming together. A true insight into these early people.”

But more importantly, the find could permanently alter the conversation about when humans first laid eyes on North America.

“One of the reasons there is so much debate is that there is a real lack of very firm, unequivocal data points,” Bennett told the BBC. “That’s what we think we probably have. Footprints aren’t like stone tools. A footprint is a footprint, and it can’t move up and down [in the soil layers].”

An illustration of the region that is now White Sands National Park in New Mexico, between 21,000 and 23,000 years ago. Image by Karen Carr, courtesy of Bournemouth University, U.K.

An illustration of the region that is now White Sands National Park in New Mexico, between 21,000 and 23,000 years ago. Image by Karen Carr, courtesy of Bournemouth University, U.K.

The footprints were, however, filled in with sediment over the ages, and it is only recent erosion that has made these “ghost tracks” visible to 21st-century eyes. Some are so faint that they can only be seen with ground-penetrating radar. To date, thousands of human prints have been found at White Sands in 61 distinct trackways over an area of 80,000 acres, as well as prints left by mammoths, dire wolves, camels, and even a giant sloth, among other animals.

“All of the trackways we’ve found there show an interaction of humans in the landscape alongside extinct animals,” Reynolds said in a statement. “We can see the coexistence between humans and animals on the site as a whole.”

Scientists are now working as quickly as they can to document these traces of human activity while they still can, before further erosion erases them from the sands of time.

“The only way we can save them,” Bustos told the Associated Press, “is to record them—to take a lot of photos and make 3-D models.”

See more photos of the footprints below.

Ancient footprints in White Stands National Park, New Mexico, have been dated to 23,000 years ago. Photo courtesy of the National Park Service/U.S. Geological Survey/Bournemouth University, U.K.

Ancient footprints in White Stands National Park, New Mexico, have been dated to 23,000 years ago. Photo courtesy of the National Park Service/U.S. Geological Survey/Bournemouth University, U.K.

North America's oldest human footprints, found in White Sands National Park in New Mexico. Photo courtesy of the National Park Service/U.S. Geological Survey/Bournemouth University, U.K.

North America’s oldest human footprints, found in White Sands National Park in New Mexico. Photo courtesy of the National Park Service/U.S. Geological Survey/Bournemouth University, U.K.

North America's oldest human footprints, found in White Sands National Park in New Mexico. Photo courtesy of the National Park Service/U.S. Geological Survey/Bournemouth University, U.K.

North America’s oldest human footprints, found in White Sands National Park in New Mexico. Photo courtesy of the National Park Service/U.S. Geological Survey/Bournemouth University, U.K.

North America's oldest human footprints, found in White Sands National Park in New Mexico. Photo courtesy of the National Park Service/U.S. Geological Survey/Bournemouth University, U.K.

North America’s oldest human footprints, found in White Sands National Park in New Mexico. Photo courtesy of the National Park Service/U.S. Geological Survey/Bournemouth University, U.K.

North America's oldest human footprints, found in White Sands National Park in New Mexico. Photo courtesy of the National Park Service/U.S. Geological Survey/Bournemouth University, U.K.

North America’s oldest human footprints, found in White Sands National Park in New Mexico. Photo courtesy of the National Park Service/U.S. Geological Survey/Bournemouth University, U.K.

Thomas Urban conducts magnetometer survey of mammoth footprints at White Sands. Photo by David Bustos, courtesy of White Sands National Park, New Mexico.

Thomas Urban conducts magnetometer survey of mammoth footprints at White Sands. Photo: David Bustos, courtesy of White Sands National Park, New Mexico.

Researchers testing seeds found embedded in the footprints. Photo courtesy of Bournemouth University, U.K.

Researchers testing seeds found embedded in the footprints. Photo courtesy of Bournemouth University, U.K.

North America's oldest human footprints, found in White Sands National Park in New Mexico. Photo courtesy of the National Park Service/U.S. Geological Survey/Bournemouth University, U.K.

North America’s oldest human footprints, found in White Sands National Park in New Mexico. Photo courtesy of the National Park Service/U.S. Geological Survey/Bournemouth University, U.K.

North America's oldest human footprints, found in White Sands National Park in New Mexico. Photo courtesy of the National Park Service/U.S. Geological Survey/Bournemouth University, U.K.

North America’s oldest human footprints, found in White Sands National Park in New Mexico. Photo courtesy of the National Park Service/U.S. Geological Survey/Bournemouth University, U.K.

North America's oldest human footprints, found in White Sands National Park in New Mexico. Photo courtesy of the National Park Service/U.S. Geological Survey/Bournemouth University, U.K.

North America’s oldest human footprints, found in White Sands National Park in New Mexico. Photo courtesy of the National Park Service/U.S. Geological Survey/Bournemouth University, U.K.

North America's oldest human footprints, found in White Sands National Park in New Mexico. Photo courtesy of the National Park Service/U.S. Geological Survey/Bournemouth University, U.K.

North America’s oldest human footprints, found in White Sands National Park in New Mexico. Photo courtesy of the National Park Service/U.S. Geological Survey/Bournemouth University, U.K.

 

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