Prehistoric ‘footprints’ falsified by science
Human footprints frozen in time, lodged in volcanic ash in a Mexican valley, seemed poised to rock history.
In the current Journal of Human Evolution, a study tells the story of how they didn’t — and how science checks out extraordinary claims.
“The timing and origin of the earliest human colonization of the Americas has been the subject of great debate over the last 100 years and is still a matter of heated discussion today,” begins the study. Hiking on the dried bed of Mexico’s Valsequillo Lake in the summer of 2003, an archeology team made a discovery they suspected would open a new chapter in the debate.
Crisscrossing the lakebed, they saw tracks, an ash field littered with hundreds of impressions that resembled footprints from adults and children, ” along with birds, cats, dogs and species with cloven feet,” as Nature magazine later reported. The team led by geoarchaeologist Silvia Gonzalez of the United Kingdom’s Liverpool John Moores University, suspected the track’s makers had fled an ancient eruption of the looming Cerro Toluquilla volcano, leaving their tracks in the now-famous “Xalnene Ash.”