Bones of an adult mammoth and its calf have been uncovered at a 37,000-year-old slaughter site in New Mexico, suggesting humans may have settled in North America 17,000 years later than previously thought.
A team of scientists led by the University of Texas at Austin extracted collagen from the bones, allowing them to date the set age of 36,250 to 38,900 years.
The bones were discovered in a three-foot-tall pile, 95 percent of which belonged to the adult, and showed battle marks and blunt force fractures
The discovery adds to growing evidence that societies existed before humans crossed the Bering Strait land bridge some 20,000 years ago. Also known as the Beringia, the bridge connected Siberia and Alaska during the last Ice Age, allowing people to cross from Asia to North America.
Timothy Rowe, lead author of the study, told DailyMail.com that the ancient people likely originated in Asia, but whether they took a coastal or overland route to America remains an open question. A separate 2021 study found that some of the first Americans crossed the Bering Sea in pedalos, stopping along a chain of islands that lay above the surface during the last Ice Age.
Previous studies have turned up remains of ancient humans 20,000 years ago and other artifacts that suggest there were people in the area before Clovis – those who crossed the land bridge. However, the mammoth bones are the earliest evidence found so far.
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Scientists discovered a three-foot-tall pile of mammoth bones that belonged to an adult female and her calf. However, 95 percent of the bones came from the adult
Rowe said in a statement: “It’s not a charismatic place with a beautiful skeleton lying on its side. It’s all broken. But that’s what the story is.’
The discovery was also made in Rowe’s backyard. His neighbor spotted a tusk sticking out of the ground, and he quickly called a team to help with the excavation.
After most of the dirt was removed, the open-air slaughterhouse was uncovered, which includes different areas separated by stone and mud walls.
The mammoth bones, both the adult and the calf, were found in a pile on which lay the adult’s head and tusks.
The bones were discovered at an open-air slaughterhouse that included separate areas cordoned off by walls.
The mammoth bones showed battle marks and fractures from blunt force trauma
Most of the remains in the pile belonged to the adult, including 44 fractured skull fragments and an intact upper right second molar and 12 isolated dental plates, 25 ribs fractured into 52 fragments, 3 vertebrae and 15 vertebral fragments, 32 bone chips from impact, 9 “butterfly fragments”, 20 unidentifiable bone fragments and 267 bags containing small “scraps of bone”.
Pictured is an illustration of what the mammoth adult looked like
“The adult face (tusks, premaxillae and partial maxillae) is the largest and heaviest single element present and was positioned on top of the bone pile,” says the study, published in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution.
“It has had its nostrils shaved from its skull and its maxillary alveoli are fractured and empty.
“The calf is represented by a portion of the left maxilla and gums with intact teeth, three isolated dental plates, left tibial diaphysis and 10 rib fragments.”
The study also notes that the separation of the adult’s facial bones from the skull was caused by “the deepest skull fracture”.
Before the mammoth bones were found, it was a 20,000-year-old burial in Montana that was the oldest evidence that humans had settled in North America.
The discovery adds to growing evidence that societies existed before humans crossed the Bering Strait land bridge some 20,000 years ago. Shown is a map showing how the land bridge once connected the two continents
The study also notes that the separation of the adult’s facial bones from the skull was caused by “the deepest skull fracture”. Shown are the animal’s facial bones, which show fractures from blunt force impacts
In 1968, construction workers discovered old tools and the remains of a small child at the site.
It’s the oldest genome ever recovered from the New World, and artifacts found with the body show the boy was part of the Clovis culture that came across the Bering Strait land bridge.
The so-called Anzick skeleton was found with about 125 artifacts, including fluted Clovis spearheads and tools made of antlers covered in red ocher, a type of mineral.
Eske Willerslev of the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, who led the study, said in a statement: “The Clovis boy’s family is the direct ancestor of approximately 80% of all Native Americans today.
“Although the Clovis culture has disappeared, its people live on today.”