12,000-Year-Old Huge Sloth Footprints Found in New Mexico. Fossil Sloth Footprints Found in New Mexico Alkali Flats Dry Beds using Ground-penetrating radar.
Where Are the Sloth Footprints?
Where are the sloth footprints? The Giant Sloth footprints were found at the White Sands National Monument (map) in New Mexico (map), more specifically, in a dry lake bed known as Alkali Flats (map). The area is used by various groups, including the American Space Program and the White Sands Missile Range. The test of the first nuclear bomb was made there.
Who Found the Footprints From Sloths?
Who found the giant sloth footprints? It seems the sloth footprints have been visible since they were laid down, but most people didn’t know what they were.
Research teams from Cornell University, Bournemouth University, and the National Park Service conducted the studies on the various footprints and published their findings in this Scientific Reports “3-D radar imaging unblocks the untapped behavioral and biomechanical archive of Pleistocene ghost tracks” on Nov. 11, 2019.
Yeah, ghost tracks. That’s why most people didn’t know what they were. The footprints would only show up in certain conditions, in rainy conditions or when the sun would hit it just right. The images would show up briefly and then vanish from sight again.
The sediment that filled the footprints after they were made was a little different than the surrounding sediment and it holds the water better, making them visible as irregular puddles.
The salt in the groundwater that helped fill them in acted like glue with the sand and gave the prints more cohesion. This now you see them, now you don’t quality, causing them to be referred to as “ghost tracks”.
So, How Did They Find the Big Sloth Footprints?
So, how did they find the sloth footprints? The researchers used something called Ground-Penetrating Radar machines or GPR to sound out the ground and create images of what was beneath.
In previous locations, footprints, which are already somewhat rare to find, had to be taken or cut out of the ground. Plaster would be poured into the print depression and a cast would be made, then the entire thing would be removed. This process is damaging to both the fossil and to the environment around it and much information was lost.
Radar has been used to picture solid objects underground, for example, locating bunkers in Vietnam during the war, finding buried buildings in archeological sites and pinpointing cracks and weak spots in girders and railroad tracks. This is the first time it’ been used for something that wasn’t a structure.
MALÅ Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) Technology Explained Video
Here’s how Ground Penetrating Radar works. The radar machine has to be dragged across the ground. That, in itself, can be damaging to the terrain, so a foam mat was laid down and the machine was dragged across it.
The area to be scanned was mapped out in a grid pattern and taken a section at a time. The machine sends radar signals into the ground in sections that come back up and record what depth each signal reached.
The researchers put together each section to make a full 3-D image.
Next, they needed physical evidence, so they cleaned out a print, took a digital photograph of it, filled it with plaster and dug it up. But, only a very few, since they could use the radar for the rest. It was much less damaging to the site than digging up all of them, as they would have done before.
What Did They Learn From the Footprints?
What did they learn from the sloth and other footprints? They learned a little bit more about how people and animals lived.
Most archeology is around bones, hunting or camping grounds. So, you learn about how they lived in groups. Another type of archeology is called Ichnology and it looks at what is known as lifestyle fossils, the softer things like footprints and animal nests and burrows.
The footprints, how deep they are, how far apart and any other peculiarities about them, can show how heavy an animal was, how long their stride was and how fast they were going. It can show if it limped or had any impairment. It can even tell how tall a person was.
The mammoth prints showed a hook in their base. It’s believed that it was caused when the sediment was pressed down. Thanks to the Royal Veterinary College in London and Monash University, researchers were able to compare a mammoth footprint with that of an elephant and found that they matched closely.
At this location, something else was noticed. Mammoths, sloths, and humans lived close to each other. It’s thought that the radar has disclosed 96% of the human footprints here while preserving the site for future investigators.
Footprints of one individual are seen marking a path over 2,600 ft. A mammoth lumbered across the tracks at one point. Then afterward, either another person or the same individual came back the way they’d come and stepped into one of the mammoth footprints, creating a mammoth footprint with a human footprint inside. Did the person see the mammoth? Would it have been a common sighting?
These two had company. Further north a little way was found giant sloth footprints. Giant sloths walked on the outside of their feet using a 3-D rotation and left impressions of their claws. Researchers think it’s possible that humans followed sloth’s tracks in order to hunt them.
What did ANCIENT Sloths Actually Look Like Video?
Sloths weren’t known in the United States in the 1930s. A trapper for the government named Ellis Wright, noticed these sloth footprints in 1932 when they showed up during the right conditions.
At 22″ long and 8-10″ wide, he thought he’d found evidence of a giant human and got a team together to investigate. Obviously, no giants were found in New Mexico in the ’30s.
Now the sloth footprints only show up on radar on a very occasion, so it’s a very lucky thing they found them.
A bill is in the works, S.1582, that could make White Sands into a national park. Maybe we’ll get to see some of these for ourselves. If we get there when it’s raining.
Giant Sloth Dung in Texas
Apparently ancient giant sloths were all over the southwest United States in the Ice Age.
Spirit Eyes Cave on Pinto Canyon Ranch in Presidio County near Big Bend National Park in Texas held a cache of Shasta ground sloth dung.
An archeologist for Alpine’s Center for Big Bend Studies, Bryon Schroeder found a brown substance that looked organic rather than like a mineral or rock. He sent a sample to Jim Mead, a scientist in Hot Springs, South Dakota. Jim Mead happens to be an expert on excrement, even if it’s all the way from the Ice Age. Seems he gave it the sniff test and yep, it’s poop. Specifically, from a Shasta ground sloths from 13,000 years ago. This proves they lived in Big Bend, Texas.
The outer areas of the cave have been gone over pretty thoroughly by people looking for artifacts and any dung there would be mostly gone. But the inner shafts and passages have been left alone for the most part and that was where the dung was found. Another shaft yielded sloth dung that was about 30,000 years old, so the sloths were here for a long time.
How it got into those back tunnels may have been due to pack rats. They’d take poop from other animals and mix it with rocks, plants and whatever they could find, then pee on it to glue it together. The mixed scents could confuse predators.
It’s possible that the sloths used the cave to live in.
The Shasta ground sloth weighed about 500 lbs. It had claws like it’s modern relative, so I don’t think you’d want to cuddle it, although they were herbivores. The Megalonyx sloth that lived on the plains was even bigger.
The pack rats dung heap also contained juniper berries even though you don’t find them in the area anymore. Junipers are found at a higher elevation today. Looking at what was in the dung can help us know what the animals in the Ice Age ate and what the environment was like.
We Hope You Liked This Post About The Old Giant Sloth Footprints
Wild sloths in the U.S.? It looks that way. But, it was a long time ago, thousands of years ago in fact, and they were big fellas.
The Ice Age saw the last of them. Perhaps, that’s why their smaller descendants live in the tropical rainforest. I’d take sleeping in a hammock in the warm air with my food close by to foraging in the snow and ice any day.
Check out our other post – 37 Most Popular Sloth Questions Ever Asked About Sloths
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This Sloth Post was made in CATEGORIES: SLOTH ARTICLES – DESCRIPTION: 12,000-Year-Old Huge Sloth Footprints Found in New Mexico. Fossil Sloth Footprints Found in New Mexico Alkali Flats Dry Beds using Ground-penetrating radar.