University of Arizona geoarcheologist prof Vance Holliday is part of a team presenting evidence in the journal Science on the earliest human activity in the Americas 23,000 years ago.

Sept. 30, 2021

Picture Credits: Study area and ancient footprints found at White Sands National Park (Locality 2). (A) Map showing approximate location of the study site. In accordance with the Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979, the National Parks Omnibus Management Act of 1998, and the Paleontological Resources Preservation Act of 2009, the precise location of the site is withheld. Interested parties may contact the National Park Service for this information, given a legitimate reason. (B) Human footprints on track horizon 4 (TH4). (C) Human footprint on TH5, located in the base of the main trench. (D) Surfaced 3D model of part of the main trench showing three human footprints on different surfaces on the trench floor. (E) Human trackways on TH4. 

Dating the earliest arrival of people in the Americas has been a contentious issue for decades. The general scientific consensus was that this event was at least 13,000 years ago but after the last “ice age” (<20,000 years ago). UA Prof Vance Holliday (Geosciences and Anthropology) was part of a team of researchers that documented human footprints at White Sands National Park in New Mexico spanning the period 23,000 to 21,000 years ago, which was during the last ice age. Besides the early date, the site is significant because at that time glacial ice separated North America from northeast Asia and, therefore, ancestors of the first New Mexicans must have arrived before the ice blockage, perhaps 25,000 years ago or earlier. The site is also very unusual in that the human activity is based on presence of footprints, which are delicate and very rarely preserved in any archaeological site. Other members of the team include Holliday’s graduate student in Geosciences Brendan Fenerty, and Geosciences alumni Jeffery Pigati (PhD 2004) and Adam Hudson (PhD 2015), both students of Jay Quade.  Their findings appear in the journal Science. Read the whole story at

Watch a TV interview with Prof Vance Holliday on  KVOA: