LOOK: 10,000-Year-Old Footprints Discovered in Utah Salt Flats of Air Force’s Training Range

by Emily Morgan

Archaeologists in Utah recently discovered early human footprints dating back at least 10,000 years. The archaeologists found the footprints in the salt flats of the Air Force’s Testing and Training Range. They are believed to have been from humans walking along the riverbed during the last ice age.

These “ghost footprints” are known for vanishing and reappearing. The prints are only visible for a short time after rainfall. Once they dry, they fade away.

According to Dr. Daron Duke and Dr. Tommy Urban, the archeologists who found the footprints, the discovery was extremely rare.

Urban, a scientist at Cornell University, was in Utah to work with Duke, a fellow archaeologist. Together, they were searching for evidence of campfires from thousands of years ago.

The two were discussing ancient tracks while driving across the salt flats to another dig site, Urban said in an interview when he noticed the prints outs of the window.

“When I spotted them from the moving vehicle, I didn’t know they were human,” Urban said. “I did know they were footprints, however, because they were in an evenly spaced, alternating sequence—a track pattern.”

This site is also one of two known locations in the United States where these “ghost footprints” have been discovered.

Archaeologists discover rare ‘ghost footprints’

This discovery comes after Urban found ancient human and other mammal tracks at White Sands National Park in New Mexico. There, the footprints date between 21,000 and 23,000 years.

In New Mexico, the tracks are evidence that one human raced across the mud holding a child, put that child down at one point, picked that child back up, and then rushed off to an unknown destination.

In addition, it also revealed that at least one giant sloth was followed by ancient humans, stood on its hind legs, and moved as the humans surrounded it and that children played in puddles.

At the site in Utah, Urban, Duke, and their colleagues returned the next day to excavate the tracks.

“Based on excavations of several prints, we’ve found evidence of adults with children from about five to 12 years of age that were leaving bare footprints,” Duke said in a press release.

“People appear to have been walking in shallow water, the sand rapidly infilling their print behind them—much as you might experience on a beach—but under the sand was a layer of mud that kept the print intact after infilling.”

They also found other footprints using ground-penetrating radar.

“We have long wondered whether other sites like White Sands were out there and whether ground-penetrating radar would be effective for imaging footprints at locations other than White Sands, since it was a very novel application of the technology,” Urban said. “The answer to both questions is ‘yes.'”