A typical teenager’s stroll: Carrying a baby and dodging mammoths

Color photo of human and mammoth footprints.

What could make you walk miles across a landscape full of Ice Age predators, all alone except for the toddler you’re carrying? Archaeologists recently discovered a long trail of footprints left behind by someone brave enough—or desperate enough—to undertake the journey.

Sometime between 10,000 and 15,000 years ago, a rather small person, probably a young teen or a short adult woman, walked quickly across the Pleistocene landscape. Mammoths and a giant ground sloth crossed the tracks in the travelers’ wake, trampling some of the footprints. People at ancient White Sands usually moved in groups, which often included a mix of ages and genders, based on the other trackways at the site. But for some reason, this person set out alone—almost.

The person’s gait is uneven, as if they were carrying a load on their left hip. And three spots along the northbound trail reveal what that load must have been: a toddler, probably around three years old. The child’s small feet left their own tracks when their guardian set them down just long enough to rest or switch arms.

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