Exploring a trail of fossilized footprints in a remote New Mexico salt mine, researchers have discovered that the tracks tell the story of a group of ice-age hunters chasing a giant sloth.
Park naturalist David Bustos says the series of footsteps and adults and children's footprints found at the White Sands National Monument show that someone was following a now extinct giant ground sloth, deliberately stepping into their tracks.
Fossil Prints has detailed its findings in the latest issue of Science Advances, the Las Cruces Sun News. The publication has attracted the attention of White Sands, home to the world's largest field of white sand dunes, while members of the New Mexico Congress delegation are working to make the monument's profile a national park.
White Sands contains a considerable amount of fossilized tracks, including saber-toothed cats and woolly mammoths.
It is unclear why ancient people have been following the sloth, team member Matthew Bennett, professor of environmental and geosciences at Bournemouth University in England, said. The creature ̵
"Youthful exuberance? Possible but unlikely," said Bennett. "We see interesting circles of sloth tracks in these cobbled tracks, which we call" surging circles. "These presumably take up the rise of the sloth on the hind legs and the swinging of its front legs in a defensive motion."
But scientists Said there are more human trails at a safe distance and told them this was a community action
Bennett believes the footprints show the sloth turning and swinging on the stalker. "We also see human tiptoes coming to these circles – was this someone who secretly approached to land a fatal blow while the sloth was distracted? We believe that," said Bennett.
There is still much to learn in the coming years, for example, when this episode of hunters and hunted took place, team member Vince Santucci said , the paleontologist at the National Park Service.
The Ice Age ended about 11,700 years ago, and the fossil finds of ground sloths indicate that they were already extinct at that time. In White Sands, scientists used an approach called relative dating to estimate a minimum age for the fossils.
"Because the footprints coincide with animals extinct at the end of the Pleistocene, relative dating tells us these footprints are at least 11,700 years old or older," Said Santucci.