Spread across the White Sands National Monument in New Mexico lie the ‘ghost tracks’ of long-dead mammoths. Now, researchers using a special type of scan have revealed other footprints; they belong to ancient humans walking deliberately inside mammoth tracks.
It’s a fascinating glimpse into life some 12,000 years ago at the end of the Pleistocene era, and it’s made possible through the use of ground-penetrating radar (GPR) scans, which are able to peer beneath the surface of the ground to reveal the hidden contours underneath.
GPR isn’t a new technology – it’s used to check for cracks in railway lines, and in geology and archaeology – but it hasn’t been deployed in this way on fossilised footprints before. It promises to give scientists access to a host of tracks and prints that aren’t visible to the naked eye.
These hidden records can tell us much more than just who (or what) walked where: a footprint can reveal the size and gait of animals, the way that humans and megafauna interacted with each other, and more detail about life in the last Ice Age.