Pleistocene Foot, Hoof, and Paw Prints in New Mexico

I worked alongside many young married men when the Augusta Chronicle employed me in their circulation department a few decades ago.  They all complained how their wives refused to have sex with them after having a baby.  My wife had a stroke during the birth of our daughter, and because of her disability I was forced to perform more mothering than most men.  Toddlers between the ages of 6 months and 3 years old go through a clinging stage.  All day long it seemed as if my child was constantly clinging to me or needing me to carry her.  By the time I got her to bed, I was so tired of human contact that sexual intercourse was the last thing I wanted.  Thus, I gained some insight into why the wives of my colleagues were not in the mood for romance after caring for a baby or toddler all day.  Evidence from over 11,000 years ago found in White Sands National Park suggests taking care of a toddler was a mood-killing chore even then.

Equatorial Minnesota: Tracking sloths and people at White Sands National  Monument

Fossilized footprints from the White Sands National Park.

A park employee found fossilized human footprints during 2017, and scientists have been studying them ever since.  A woman or teenaged boy carried a toddler almost a mile near a muddy lakeshore.  The footprints indicate she (or he) periodically set the toddler down to rest.  Dolomite and calcite salts hardened the prints into molds that were quickly covered by mud when heavy rains caused the lake to rise, preserving them for thousands of years.  The woman or teenaged boy carried the toddler in 1 direction, but this individual made a return trip without the toddler.  I think a young woman was dropping her toddler off at grandma’s camp, so she could have some romantic alone time with her husband.  Or maybe a teenaged babysitter was bringing a toddler back to its mother after taking care of it during the parents’ romantic interlude.  The pathway is crisscrossed with mammoth and ground sloth tracks.  Apparently, the trip was worth the risk of encountering large dangerous animals.  The presence of megafauna that became extinct about 11,000 years ago suggests these prints are at least that old.

Other fossilized tracks in White Sands National Monument show prints of children playing in mud puddles made by mammoth and ground sloth tracks, and they show the paw prints of big cats and wolves.  All of the articles I’ve read about this are written by authors who assume these are saber-tooth and dire wolf tracks, but I am unaware of any study differentiating between saber-tooth and other big cat paw prints, nor are their any studies distinguishing dire wolf and timber wolf tracks.  

Climate patterns were much different in southwestern North America during the late Pleistocene.  Annual precipitation rates were much higher, while average annual temperatures and evapotranspiration rates were much lower.  Abundant lakes and lush vegetation covered the landscape, but today, the region is an arid desert. (See: https://markgelbart.wordpress.com/2017/04/09/ice-age-western-lakes-and-altered-bird-migrations/ ) Unfortunately, now that these fossilized trackways are exposed they will erode away and disappear forever.

Refererence:

Bennett, M; et al

“Walking in Mud: Remarkable Pleistocene Human Trackways from White Sands National Park (New Mexico)”

Quaternary Science Review 249 December 2020

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