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Footprints Prove Humans Used To Stalk And Kill 8-Foot-Tall Sloths, Scientists Say

Footprints Prove Humans Used To Stalk And Kill 8-Foot-Tall Sloths, Scientists Say
(GeoBeats News/YouTube)

Scientists discovered a set of sloth footprints embedded in the dunes of the White Sands National Monument in New Mexico. But the captivating find was not solely the tracks left behind by the extinct, predatory mammal.

Human footprints were additionally found inside the tracks suggesting evidence of a predator-prey interaction between two species.

Bournemouth University's Matthew Bennett and his team were stopped in their tracks when they discovered the 10,000 years-old set of footprints left by ancient people and the terrifying ground sloth.

Unlike the sloths we know of today, these ground sloths from thousands of years ago weighed 8,000 pounds and bared razor-sharp claws.

Bennett published the discovery in Science Advances and discussed the combative interaction implied by the footprints.

Geologically, the sloth and human trackways were made contemporaneously, and the sloth trackways show evidence of evasion and defensive behavior when associated with human tracks. Behavioral inferences from these trackways indicate prey selection and suggest that humans were harassing, stalking, and/or hunting the now-extinct giant ground sloth in the terminal Pleistocene.

Geobeats News said that the scientists determined that the sloth was being attacked by humans and stood on its hind legs, reaching a height of 7 to 8 feet, to intimidate hunters.

Illustration depicting humans attempting to hunt the sloth.(YouTube)

In a video interview, Bennett told Bournemouth University that finding the human footprints was unprecedented in the location and revealed how they stalked and hunted the dangerous animal.

Understanding the way in which our ancestors might have tackled big prey, and the fact that they tackled big prey is quite interesting, because a big animal like this would've come with huge amounts of risk.
If you were chasing a small rabbit or something, [there is] little risk associated, but going head-to-head with a sloth, the chances are you might come off badly. Therefore, what justifies that greater risk?

Bennett also added that the hunt may have been a "family affair" with the evidence of children's footprints among an assembled crowd witnessing the hunt.

Piecing the puzzle we can see how sloth were kept on the flat playa by a horde of people and distracted by a hunter stalking the sloth from behind, while another crept forward and tried to strike the killing blow as the animal turned.

The tracks were found in the western edge of Alkali Flat, but the exact time period of when these particular trackways from the interaction between the humans and the lethal sloth remains unknown.

H/T - YouTube, Mashable, ScienceAdvances, Twitter