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‘Ghost Tracks’ Found On Salt Flats Near Air Force Base In Utah Desert

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HILL AIR FORCE BASE, UT - NOVEMBER 19: Hill Air Force Bases 388th and 419th fighter wings line up 36, F-35A's on the runway to prepare for take-off on November 19, 2018 in Hill Air Force Base, Utah. This combat training exercise is to help the 388th and 419th, the only combat ready units for the F-35A's, to be ready to launch multiple aircraft on short notice in the defense of the country.
George Frey/Getty Images.

Ancient human footprints, referred to as “ghost tracks” by researchers, have been discovered in salt flats on the Air Force’s Testing and Training Range in Utah.

The tracks, which are revealed in the ground after rain but cannot be seen when the area is dry, are believed to be from people around 10,000 years ago when scientists say that the area was a wetland. The prints, found in the Great Salt Lake Desert, change color once filled with water, making them easy to locate.

“These are once-in-a-lifetime discoveries and I feel blessed that I’ve been able to be a part of them as well as find ways in which to bring them to the public,” said Anya Kitterman, the cultural resource manager for the Department of Defense.

Thomas Urban, a researcher with Cornell University, and Far Western Anthropological Research Group archeologist Daron Duke saw the footprints while driving to another archeological site in the area. Urban has worked on a similar project at White Sands in New Mexico using radars to locate other footprints, calling the find “serendipitous.”

“We have long wondered whether other sites like White Sands were out there, and whether ground-penetrating radar would be effective for imaging footprints at locations other than White Sands, since it was a very novel application of the technology,” Urban said. “The answer to both questions is ‘yes.’”

The technology used to locate additional footprints was ground penetrating radar, also known as GPR, which bounces radio waves off of underground objects. A total of 88 footprints were found from children and adults believed to be living in the area at the time.

“Based on excavations of several prints, we’ve found evidence of adults with children from about 5 to 12 years of age that were leaving bare footprints,” Duke explained. “People appear to have been walking in shallow water, the sand rapidly infilling their print behind them — much as you might experience on a beach — but under the sand was a layer of mud that kept the print intact after infilling.”

Researchers are continuing to scan a roughly 5,000-acre area to discern whether they can find more evidence of early human civilization in the region. The new area has been termed the Trackway Site and is located near another archeological location known as the Wishbone, where archeologists found what is said to be evidence of the earliest use of tobacco by humans.

Duke said he appreciated the Air Force’s cooperation during the team’s research.

“The Air Force has been very supportive and facilitating of the Trackway find,” he said. “They have a mission to complete, and for years Hill AFB has done this while preserving and protecting the archaeological record.”

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