SCIENCE

Scientists in Chile have found a 15,000-year-old footprint, the earliest sign of humans’ presence in the Americas

May 3, 2019, 5:43 AM | Updated: 5:46 am
The Osorno volcano in Chile is seen here. A team of scientists in Chile say they've found a human f...
The Osorno volcano in Chile is seen here. A team of scientists in Chile say they've found a human footprint that dates back more than 15,000 years -- the oldest one ever found in the Americas.

(CNN) — A team of scientists in Chile say they’ve found a human footprint that dates back more than 15,000 years — the oldest one ever found in the Americas.

The discovery challenges the previous timeline and map of human migration into South America. Most available evidence held that humans did not reach the Patagonia region at the southern tip of South America until 12,000 years ago, Karen Moreno, one of the co-authors of the research, told CNN.

The scientists believe the trace fossil is an impression of the bare right foot of an adult human, Moreno said. The research was published last week in the scientific journal PLOS-ONE.

The footprint was found in 2010 at a paleo-archaeological site in the city of Osorno in the southern part of the country, at the edge of a townhome development. But it took years for scientists to confirm the age of the fossil through carbon dating.

Scientists were alerted to the richness of the area after construction workers, digging to build houses, began unearthing treasures hidden below the surface.

A new wave of research has been ongoing there since 1986 and has uncovered the remains of large animals, ranging from mastodons to horses to a paleo-llama, a larger species of llama that is now extinct.

But the ancient human footprint was maybe the biggest prize.

Confirming the footprint’s age took eight years

Moreno’s colleague, Mario Pino, discovered the footprint just before Christmas in 2010.

To pinpoint the age of the footprint, the team used radiocarbon-dating techniques to find the age of wood, seeds, and bones found around the impression. They also found evidence of primitive stone tools in the area around the fossil.

They identified the species as Hominipes modernus, which is closely related to Homo sapiens.

The experiments on the organic material around the footprint created a range of possible dates, with the median age pinning the print at around 15,600 years old.

But more than eight years passed between spotting the footprint and publishing the confirmation of its age. Moreno said the team spent that time “trying to convince our colleagues that it was a footprint.”

Over time the evidence became undeniable, she said. “We confirmed, and checked and re-checked.”

Moreno said there were “a lot of difficulties” in convincing colleagues how it’s possible for humans to have been in the area 3,000 years earlier than previous traces of the nomadic Clovis culture that existed in the area.

Eventually, the peer reviewers were satisfied.

The find rewrites the human migratory map

Human footprints as old as 3.6 million years old have been found in Laetoli, Tanzania. In 1978 scientists discovered a trail of footprints made there, where three early humans are believed to have trod through wet volcanic ash.

It took millions of years for human feet to march to the Americas. They eventually crossed over the Bering Strait from modern-day Russia into Alaska during the last ice age.

Last year, scientists found a footprint trail in British Columbia dating to 13,000 years ago. But those footprints were much younger and much closer to the Bering Strait than this new announcement in Patagonia.

“If we have the evidence of humans before then, we have have to figure out how they got there,” Moreno said.

But much of that evidence, if it exists, is now probably at the bottom of the sea. Sea levels were lower 15,000 years ago.

“Most of the evidence is underwater or has been eroded by glaciers,” Moreno said.

The-CNN-Wire
™ & © 2019 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.

Today’s Top Stories

Science

A technician works on a component of Rocket Lab's Electron rocket ahead of the launch on the Mahia ...
NICK PERRY Associated Press

NASA hopes New Zealand launch will pave way for moon landing

The mission came together relatively quickly and cheaply for NASA, with the total mission cost put at $32.7 million.
4 days ago
BYU competes in URC....
Amie Schaeffer

BYU students compete in a contest that’s out of this world

A team of BYU engineering students placed in the top ten in the University Rover Challenge. The competition hosted students from 10 countries.
25 days ago
supermoon lunar eclipse map...
Curt Gresseth

Be over the moon because total lunar eclipse coming Sunday to Utah

Patrick Wiggins, NASA solar system ambassador to Utah, explains what a total lunar eclipse is and when it can be witnessed Sunday night in Utah -- provided the skies are clear.
2 months ago
This Sept. 24, 2020 photo shows the major parts of the IRIS radio that the Space Dynamics Laborator...
Waverly Golden

Utah State University helps NASA with space exploration

NASA is launching a new mission in 2025 and Utah State University is helping them by building space-based radios.
2 months ago
(A testing site operated by Nomi Health across the street from UDOH headquarters.  Photo: Paul Nels...
Paul Nelson

Federal health officials investigating Utah-based company over COVID-19 testing

A Utah-based company is being investigating for claims of substandard conditions at COVID-19 testing sites.
3 months ago
radio circle...
Ashley Strickland, CNN

Mysterious ‘odd radio circles’ seen in space, new image shows

Astronomers found the odd radio circles using the Australian SKA Pathfinder telescope, operated by Australia's national science agency CSIRO, or Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, two years ago.
3 months ago

Sponsored Articles

Tax Harassment...
Jordan Wilcox

The best strategies for dealing with IRS tax harassment | You have options!

Learn how to deal with IRS tax harassment. This guide will teach you how to stop IRS phone calls and letters, and how to handle an IRS audit.
spend a day at Bear Lake...
Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

You’ll love spending the day at Bear Lake | How to spend a day at Bear Lake

Bear Lake is a place that needs to be experienced. Spend a day at Bear Lake.
Curb Appeal...
Price's Guaranteed Doors

How to have the best of both worlds for your house | Home security and curb appeal

Protect your home and improve its curb appeal with the latest security solutions like beautiful garage doors and increased security systems.
Prescription opioids can be disposed of during National Prescription Take Back Day...
Know Your Script

Prescription opioid misuse | How to protect your family from the opioid epidemic

Studies have shown that prescription opioid misuse has increased since COVID-19. So what do you need to know about these opioids?
national heart month...
Intermountain Healthcare

National Heart Month: 5 Lifestyle Changes to Make Today to Keep You Heart Healthy

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. One person dies every 36 seconds in the United States from cardiovascular disease
Joseph Smith Memorial Building...
Temple Square

The Joseph Smith Memorial Building is an icon of Salt Lake City | Why hosting an event at this beautiful location will make you a hero this year

Here's why hosting an event at the iconic Joseph Smith Memorial Building in downtown Salt Lake City will make you a hero this year.
Scientists in Chile have found a 15,000-year-old footprint, the earliest sign of humans’ presence in the Americas