Last year, the bones of a gigantic mammoth were dug up from a farmer’s field in Michigan. Many mammoth remains have been unearthed over the decades, but this one was particularly exciting for paleontologists because it could help reveal when humans first stepped foot in the Americas.
On October 1, 2015, scientists from the University of Michigan Museum excavated the find. They named it the Bristle mammoth after the farmer who owned the land.
Paleontologist and renowned mammoth expert Professor Daniel Fisher, who led the dig, found new evidence about the hunters who took down the beast.
“What’s so interesting about the Bristle site is that there’s a mammoth with evidence of human association at a very early date — well before Clovis times,” Fisher said in a University of Michigan press release. “That makes it all the more important to do a complete documentation of this site, and that’s why we intend to return to the Bristle farm and open a second excavation adjacent to where we dug before.”
The Clovis Culture was a prehistoric Native American culture, named after Clovis in New Mexico. The first evidence for its existence was a spear point found there in 1932, which indicated people living in the area around 13,500 years ago. The Bristle mammoth could be as much as 15,000 years old, meaning it was roaming around long before.
Other research has shown that humans foraged near the bottom of South America between at least 18,500 and 14,500 years ago, so finding evidence of them on the mammoth bones adds another piece to the puzzle.
Fisher said that there were several different pieces of evidence that humans were involved when the mammoth died. Among the 60 bones found, many of the skull bones showed “intentional breakage, targeted toward removal of nutritious tissues that humans might wish to harvest.”
He also said that wooden, stone or bone tools were probably used to break bones around the base of both of the mammoth’s tusks, the base of the trunk, and along the back of the skull.
There were also three football-sized boulders at the scene. There was no evidence that they could have gotten there from a river current, but there may have been a pond there. Fisher has seen similar finds before at other mammoth kill sites before, and apparently, these stones acted as a sort of meat-storage device.
The people would have butchered the mammoth carcass and then placed selected portions at the bottom of the pond, using the boulders like anchors.
Early humans definitely did hunt mammoths, but there has been quite a bit of debate between scientists about whether we were to blame for their extinction. After a long time of blaming the Ice Age for killing them off, a paper last year suggested we might have played a bigger role than previously thought in the disappearance of woolly mammoths and sabretooth tigers.
However, research from this year suggests that the mammoths were responsible for their own extinction, because they worsened the situation by destroying foliage around lake shores when water was running out after a series of environmental changes.
Either way, there has been some talk about bringing back the massive elephant-like beasts when cloning technology is perfected, so maybe we can make amends.
This video shows more about the muddy excavation: