New Orleans The pictures spoke louder than the words. On the front pages of papers around the country and the world, you could see the heels and toes of one foot after another in the arid sands. No shoes here, but these were indeed long fellows, at least now as the ages had encrusted the prints. Archeologists and others finding these human tracks near White Sands, New Mexico have made a huge discovery.
There’s controversy, if you want to call it that. The footprints were first sited in 2009, but the process of dating and confirming the age is a difficult and contentious enterprise requiring multiple tests, in this case of seed grass that can be carbon dated. The report places the age of the footprints at around 23,000 years ago before the last Ice Age hit the Americas. The controversy for scientists is whether the prints are really older than the tools dated at 13,000 years in the Clovis period, named after the New Mexico town near where they were found, after the glaciers retreated. Many of them are invested in one theory or another about how the Americas were populated, either coming with the thaw or snaking their way down the coast and moving inland beforehand.
I find that fascinating but can’t get too excited either way. To me just trying to get my mind around people on ground I’ve tread frequently ten or twenty thousand years ago is mind-boggling. They report finding over a thousand footprints in the White Sands area, so this was no one-off thing. One report talked about the difference in children’s prints indicating that they were jumping around and playing. It’s wildly difficult to image life one-thousand years ago or two-thousand years ago, but ten or twenty…wow! I’ve had the same feeling walking around dinosaur tracks in central Wyoming near where one of our trailers is in Manderson. Looking at their bones coming out of the rock near Vernal, Utah, not far from where we lived in Rangely, Colorado, was also breath taking.
This is real. Concrete. You can touch it and feel time. You can strain and try to imagine the journey and lives of people, essentially just like us. The billionaire obsession with space is a bigger stretch for me. I get it. It’s exploration and adventure. The search for aliens though is novel, but ephemeral to me. To my way of thinking, it’s not so much who cares, as simply theoretical and speculative.
The ancient ones, the Anasazi, as the Navajo call them, lived thousands of years ago in Chaco Canyon. That’s real and still mysterious, even as we look at the four-story structures and kivas in what was once North America’s largest city. Now, add another ten or twenty thousand years of real, walking, talking life here, and it strains the imagination, but the stark reality grips me deeply.
Why don’t we put more time and money behind fleshing out more deeply all of these generations before us, rather than chasing eyes in the sky?