Scientists discover 15000 year old footprint, the oldest evidence of humans in South America

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osorno volcano
Volcán Osorno inl its glory, from Saltos de Petrohue. Osorno has been an important archaeological site in recent years. (Credits - Wikimedia Commons)

Researchers in Chile reported that they have obtained footprint belonging to humans. It dates back to more than 15000 years. This is the oldest evidence of humans which has been found in Latin America.

This finding makes a direct challenge to the timeline and path of migration of human beings into South America. The evidence which was available till now held the understanding that human beings could not reach the Patagonia region which is located at the south tip of Latin America till 12,000 years before.

The footprint was obtained at Pilauco excavation in Osorno, where researchers have been searching for any evidence since 2007.

Archaeologists from Austral University in Chile reported that the footprint was first detected in 2011 beside a house. It took several years for paleontologist Karen Moreno, geologist Mario Pino to verify that the footprint was that of a human being. The report has been published in the journal PLOS-ONE.

Mario Pino told the newspaper, El Austral that several other footprints have been discovered in South America but none of them was so dated old as this one. Scientists have been able to calculate the age of the footprint by applying radiocarbon techniques of dating to the plant where the footprint was present.

Radioactive dating was first developed by Willard Libby, in the latter part of the 40s who was also awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work in 1960. It is based on the principle that radioactive form of Carbon ( C -14) has been continuously created by the interaction of cosmic rays with nitrogen. Measuring the amount of C-14 in the dead animal or plant provides the data from which it can be calculated when the plant or animal died.

Pino reported that the print appeared to be of a male human weighing approximately 70 kilograms. He belonged to the species Hominipes modernus, which is related to Homo Sapiens. Evidence of stone tools has also been obtained in the region around the fossil.

Almost eight years have passed between finding the fossil and reporting the confirmation about the age. The team of researchers spent the time in checking, confirming and re-checking the evidence and finally managed to convince their peers.

The city of Osorno has been a rich archaeological site and scientists were alerted of this after workers found treasures underneath the Earth while digging. Remains of animals such as horses have been found here. Scientists think that many more evidence of humans may be present, but they have been mostly eroded by glaciers or is present underwater.

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