From 36,250 to 38,900 years ago, there may have been people butchering mammoths in New Mexico. That’s according to a fossil find of mammoth bones in a paleontologist’s backyard. The site held a wealth of evidence “rarely found in one place,” says UT News.
Included in a pile of mammoth bones:
- bones with blunt-force fractures
- Signs of controlled fire
- bone flake knives
- mother and calf mammoth bones
Some scientists say the fractures could have been created naturally rather than by humans.
Video by The University of Texas Jackson School of Geosciences:
A ‘Cosmic Coincidence’ Finding the Mammoth Bones at Home
In 2013, Timothy Rowe, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin’s Jackson School of Geosciences, investigated “something sticking out of a hillside” on his New Mexico property, per CNN. Even though the bones were on his property, careful excavations began in 2015. Then, the samples went to a lab for testing, and the results were published in July in Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution.
“I have yet to fully process the cosmic coincidence of this site appearing in my back yard,” Paleontologist Timothy Rowe wrote in an email.
Carbon dating on collagen from the bones pointed to the ancient date range.
“What we’ve got is amazing,” said Rowe. “It’s not a charismatic site with a beautiful skeleton laid out on its side. It’s all busted up. But that’s what the story is.”
Global Distribution for Humans
Rowe believes the find shows that people were distributed around the globe far earlier than thought before.
“Humans have been in the Americas for more than twice as long as archaeologists have maintained for many years,” Rowe said. “This site indicates that humans attained a global distribution far earlier than previously understood.”
The surprising discovery of mammoth fossils in a paleontologist’s backyard have led to an even more unexpected finding.
Rowe’s neighbor was the first to point out the objects.
“Rowe does not usually research mammoths or humans. He got involved because the bones showed up in his backyard, literally. A neighbor spotted a tusk weathering from a hillslope on Rowe’s New Mexico property in 2013,” wrote UT News.
Upon closer inspection, the bones appeared deliberately broken, butchered by ancient humans.
Video by Ancient Geographic:
Humans in North America 50,000 Years Ago?
Although it might look like a pile of rubble, the bones may roll back the official timeline when people were in North America by at least 13,000 years.
In 2015, international researchers determined modern-day humans arrived “no earlier than 23,000 years ago” in the initial migration, splitting into two separate branches 13,000 years ago. Thus, genetic evidence and archaeological evidence showed people were in North America long before the stone tool using Clovis culture 16,000 years ago.
It also mean’s Rowe’s land is home to one of the oldest sites in the country so far. Given New Mexico’s location, the researchers suggest people must have come to North America well before 37,000 years ago. According to NBC, it may point to more like 50,000 years ago.
“The mammoth bones at what’s called the Hartley site in northern New Mexico, on rocks high above a tributary to the Rio Grande, are hailed as the most conclusive evidence so far that humans arrived in the Americas up to 50,000 years ago walking over a “land bridge” between what are now Siberia and Alaska,” NBC reported.
Humans Using Mammoth Bone Tools and Fire
According to UT News, the mammoth bones tell the tale of a butchering site where people rendered fat over a fire. Chemical analysis of the sediment found bird, rodent, lizard, and fish remains and suggested a sustained, controlled fire.
“Bones from the butchering site record how humans shaped pieces of their long bones into disposable blades to break down their carcasses, and rendered their fat over a fire. But a key detail sets this site apart from others from this era. It’s in New Mexico – a place where most archaeological evidence does not place humans until tens of thousands of years later,” they write.
Woolly Mammoths survived until about 3,600 years ago on Wrangel Island, 87 miles from Russia. But most of them may have died off 10,000 years ago.
Ghost Footprints in New Mexico
Another discovery in White Sands National Park, New Mexico, of “ghost footprints” in the white gypsum sand dunes thought to date back 21,000 years has been disputed. Human footprints were also found alongside giant sloth prints, indicating they coexisted.
Radiocarbon dating aquatic plant seeds buried in the footprint layers arrived at the age. (see video below)
Video by PBS:
Chiquihuite Cave in Mexico
In 2020, archaeologists at Chiquihuite Cave in Mexico found evidence that people used stone tools at the site at least 26,000 years ago.
Archaeologist Ciprian Ardelean of the Autonomous University of Zacatecas noted the date indicated people must have come to the Americas at least 32,000 or more years ago.
“The dates place humans there during the height of the last ice age when ice covered much of what is now Canada and sea levels were much lower. To have settled in Mexico by then, Ardelean says, people must have entered the Americas 32,000 years ago or more, before the ice reached its maximum extent.”
Certainly, the newer finding in New Mexico comes close but indicates people arrived as much as 6900 years earlier.
Video by Al Jazeera:
Humans in North America 130,000 Years Ago?
In the 90s, archaeologists found mastodon remains in a San Diego suburb. Unlike grazing mammoths, mastodons were shorter and stockier, with shorter, straighter tusks and browsed woodlands.
In 2017, the researchers suggested the mastodon remains indicated people were in North America 130,000 years ago. According to them, the bones appeared hammered by humans against nearby stones.
The site was dubbed the Cerutti Mastodon site but became controversial as other scientists disputed the findings. In 2020, the team offered more evidence of mastodon bones found on top of stones they believe were used as anvils.
Critics suggest the site was contaminated by road work construction equipment nearby, trampling the bones, but the researchers denied contamination of the site.