The Manis Mastodon site near Sequim on the Olympic Peninsula (map) is one of the great enigmas of Northwest Coast archaeology. The site has been known since the 1970s and is purportedly a Mastodon kill-butchery site. With radiocarbon dates (on plant material associated with extinct mastodon) of 13,500 to 13,900 calendar years ago, the site is clearly pre-Clovis. As a pre-Clovis site on the Northwest Coast, Manis should be of comparable stature to, say, the Clovis-killer Monte Verde site in Chile, which dates to about 14,500 calendar years ago.
Doubts remain about this site, though, mainly because it is not yet completely reported. A preliminary report by Gustafson et al. in the Canadian Journal of Archaeology (which I don’t have handy — hey CAA, I know you sell CDs of your back issues, so how hard can it be to put them online?) was equivocal about the association of some flake and cobble tools with the skeleton, and while interesting conclusions were drawn about the fragmentary nature of the skeleton, nothing conclusive was resolved. This is despite one of the clearest possible “smoking guns” one could hope for in archaeology.
One of the mastodon ribs has an anomalous object embedded in it (see picture above): this has widely been interpreted as the tip of a bone point, around which the mastodon bone has healed. While clearly not the killing blow, it is hard to imagine what non-human agencies could have embedded this object in the rib of a living animal. Frustratingly, though, the point has never been fully examined. It was subjected to a CAT scan some years ago, but even these results have not been reported, other than to confirm the object is intrusive. Whether it is bone or antler is not even clear. And though I have said often enough to my students, “someone, please, just grab some pliers, pull that sucker out and put us out of our misery” (and am saying so again now, publicly) the fact is when I contacted the Sequim museum, which curates the Manis mastodon, a few years ago they had no idea where this particular bone was. Oops.
Manis is too important to be ignored, yet still equivocal enough to be dismissed. With recent finds on the Northwest Coast returning dates of over 12,500 calendar years, and with the intriguing, contemporaneous, but similarly equivocal, 13,500 year old Ayers Pond bison kill-butchery site on Orcas Island ( not to mention pre-Clovis occupation at Paisley Cave in Oregon,) we may be closing the temporal gap towards Manis, making it less exceptional and hence less controversial. It is interesting to contemplate a confirmed Manis site as an example of how, in a classic symptom of a Kuhnian paradigm shift, the evidence for the new paradigm of the peopling of the Americas has been with us, ignored, for 30 years. The Monte Verde site, which waited 20 years before the Clovis Police accepted it as real, is another example. What other evidence is sitting around, waiting for the intellectual climate to catch up? Step one to an answer: someone find the Manis bone in question, and lets yank that object out and take a proper look. If its cultural: direct date it, and case closed.
Anyway, the point of this post is to draw your attention to a small but interesting photo-gallery of the Manis object at the Centre for the Study of First Americans. In all likelihood, these are the best pictures of the Manis enigma that you will ever see. There is a good wrap up of the site at historylink.org and another at the Sequim Museum, which has its own photo-gallery of low-res pictures of the site and Mr. Manis himself.
For the record, here is Manis as described in a canonical article by Donald Grayson and David Meltzer, which you can download here:
Manis. Excavated during the 1970s, this site provided a “virtually” com- plete mastodon skeleton (Gustafson, 1985, p. 285). One of the specimens from this skeleton accounts for the site’s fame: a fragmentary rib with the tip of a bone object protruding from the near the rib’s head (see the illustration in Gustafson et al., 1979). The assumption this protruding object must be the tip of a projectile led to the further assumption that this animal had been attacked by people. In addition to the fragmentary rib, two other lines of evidence have been used to argue that the Manis mastodon is archaeological. First, “the bones of the right limb were scattered about and possess numerous cuts, scratches, and breaks suggestive of butchering” (Gustafson, 1985, p. 284). Second, a “ﬂaked cobble spall” is said to have been found associated with the mastodon bones (Gustafson et al., 1979, p. 163), as were “several pieces of worked bone and tusk” (Gustafson et al., 1979, p. 157).
Even though Gustafson (1985) quickly turned the Manis locale into a “kill site,” we concur with Carlson (1990) in ﬁnding no compelling evidence for human involvement with this animal. This is an easy conclusion to reach because so little has been published on the results of the excavations that occurred here. There are no descriptions of the “several pieces of worked bone and tusk,” and only a crude illustration of the ﬂaked cobble spall said to be an artifact. What has been published leaves us in strong doubt. The “ﬂaked cobble spall” was not the only stone object found in the mastodon component at Manis. Instead, it was selected as archaeological from amongst a number of other, apparently larger, objects that had been “chipped and broken” but none of which “can be shown deﬁnitely to have been altered by man” (Gustafson et al., 1979, p. 163). Given this context, and given the nature of the “ﬂaked cobble spall” illustrated by Gustafson et al. (1979, p. 163), we are unconvinced that this is an artifact.
We are also unconvinced that the “cuts, scratches, and breaks” mentioned by Gustafson (1985), and in part illustrated by Gilbow (1981, ﬁgures 3.12, 3.12), are of anthropogenic origin. None of the marks is such that it would have suggested human interference in the absence of the pointed bone object found in the mastodon rib.
That object is certainly curious. One of us (DKG) arranged to have a tomogram made of this specimen shortly after it was excavated. Although the image has never been published, the results are accurately reported in Gustafson et al. (1979). What we do not know is what this apparently intrusive object is. Gustafson et al. (1979, p. 157) make it very clear that they did not know either, referring to it as a “supposed projectile point.” Given that the Manis mastodon site has never been adequately discussed in print, other than the paleoenvironmental analysis conducted by Peterson et al. (1983), and that the critical rib fragment has never been analyzed in any detail, this site cannot be accepted as providing secure evidence for human interaction with or predation on mastodon.
DK Grayson, DJ Meltzer 2002. Clovis hunting and large mammal extinction: a critical review of the evidence. Journal of World Prehistory