More on Manis Mastodon

Image from the Mammoth Trumpet. Source: CSFA. Click to enlarge somewhat.

While we wait patiently for the definitive word on the rumoured exciting new developments regarding the 14,000 year old, pre-Clovis Manis Mastodon site near Sequim, Washington, I thought it was worth a new post to pass on an article a regular reader of this blog brought to my attention.

The Center for the Study of the First Americans, the same organization who is now re-analysing Manis Mastodon, have for many years published a very informative newsletter they call the Mammoth Trumpet.  Some of the early issues are online, including one which has a 1987 report on the Manis site(PDF).  I had not seen this before (the whole archives are worth a post on their own) and the article has some interesting information, including the picture above.

Detail of representation Manis bone point x-ray. Source: CFSA, Mammoth Trumpet. Click to enlarge.

As you can see, there is a “drawing of a xerograph” (“photocopy, in current parlance) of the x-ray of the Mastodon rib which is causing current excitement.  It does look pointed!  Although it is, of course, a low-quality reproduction of an interpretation of an x-ray, if I follow the text correctly.  Nonetheless, it is the only actual representation of the “bone point” I have seen.  It doesn’t penetrate as far as I might have imagined, and the tip appears to be stubby (though doubtless strong, considering the likely compromises of strength vs. sharpness needed in bone technology.  Nonetheless it is “stubbier” seeming than the Gaadu Din 1 bone point mentioned previously).

Of equal interest is the image to the left, which shows a bone flake, plausibly produced by percussion.  This is the first actual image of the bone alterations at the site which I have seen.

And, in the interests of following along with the development of the site as we await the current research results, which I expect to focus very narrowly on the bone itself, the Mammoth Trumpet article contains lots of information about how the site was found, and excavated.  It sounds extremely challenging!  Gustafson was standing waist deep in muck when he found the bone in question, which was what transformed a more casual visit to a palaeontological site into an urgent need for archaeological excavation. This probably accounts for the poor ability to draw associations between the cobble spalls and simple stone tools found and the Mastodon itself.

Also of interest is the useful field reasoning that Gustafson showed.  Finding only one side of the Mastodon, he reasoned people might have displaced the other half nearby, disarticulated.  This proved to be the case.  And, he reasoned they might not want to camp in the gravelly muck, and that there might be a drier campsite nearby.  Through regularly spaced cores fanning out from the find, he followed the buried post-glacial land surface along until it started to rise to a slightly elevated, presumably drier, paleo-hummock.  Backhoe excavation there went through Mt. Mazama ash and, while no archaeological remains were found of Mastodon age, more recent stone tools were found and incidentally, bison remains which may have been butchered, lying on the same gravels as the Mastodon.  It makes me wonder if the same process could be followed at the Ayer Pond bison butchery site, or even the North Saanich bison find, which remains sadly under-investigated but is only palaeontological as far as we know.

I was also surprised to read that so much effort was out into this site over the 10 years before the Mammoth Trumpet piece – a lab was set up, etc – and yet so little was put into the scientific literature.  It’s a shame – useful palaeontological data not to mention archaeological must lurk somewhere, ready to be written up and pushed out.  As I know all too well, until you’ve published results, you haven’t actually done anything at all.

All in all, the article is worth checking out and indeed the whole CSFA website contains some rich information about the all aspects of the most ancient occupations of the Americas.  Emanual Manis died in 2000.  In 2002 Clare Manis donated the two-acre site to the non-profit Archaeological Conservancy in his memory. The article makes it clear we have a huge debt to the Manis family who very easily could have ignored the find or not allowed research to continue on their property.  Elephants never forget, they say, and neither will this one be forgotten, nor the landowners who brought it to light.  The Manis name will live on through the high profile the Mastodon site will continue to enjoy, especially when the new developments are published, which I expect we will be seeing very soon, indeed, and in the highest profile journals of the scientific world.

Emanuel "Manny" Manis poses with Mastodon tusks in 1977. Source: Sequim Museum.


9 responses to “More on Manis Mastodon

  1. Thank you for sharing more on this fascinating topic! In 2010 I had the honor of meeting Clare Manis, along with a group of Anthropology Club students, when we were visiting Museums and sites on the Olympic Peninsula. She very graciously took the time to walk out and meet us (in the rain), and spoke with the students for quite a while, telling the story of how the site was discovered and the extensive field work (and associated publicity!) that was conducted there. It is gratifying to learn even more about the discoveries from the site, and I eagerly look forward to the report and more updates on this .


  2. Hi Kathleen, Thanks for your comment and your observation about Clare Manis. It’s good to hear about non-archaeologists who get so passionate and committed about the field, and for public education as well.

    I forgot to include it in my post, but the same correspondent who sent me the link to the Mammoth Trumpet also sent along a link to the following Seattle Times article from 2003, with a choice quote from Gustafson.

    As for Gustafson: “I guess I’m gonna have to go back and do some more publishing on it. There’s a lot of information that should be made public. Anyone I’ve showed the bones to is convinced.”

    Such folks, though, are few. Prize fossils can’t just be carted around like a P.T. Barnum sideshow. But times change, and he’s got a plan, possibly involving digital cameras.

    Hard to imagine, but even as recently as 2003 digital cameras were quite a novelty.


  3. Interestingly, I just found a reference to a second MA thesis on the Manis site:

    An Experimental Analysis of Two Bone Tools from the Manis [Mastodon] Site [WA-CA-218], Sequim, Washington
    Masters Thesis, Washington State University.
    Runnings, A.L.
    Coyote Press facsimile reprint. Softcover. $9.50
    For sale here:

    It’s too bad that so many MA theses never really make it off the shelves. With dSpace and similar programs this is changing of course, bringing a whole host of research out into the light – of variable quality of course but each one has, after all, in theory, been checked out by a committee of academics and found to meet at least a minimum standard and hence have some worth. And the good ones are very good indeed. Anyway, I wonder if I can spring 10 bucks for the above. Hmmmm.


  4. It is interesting to read that trumpet article – clearly there was almost no funding for this project and much of the work that Gustafson did was on his own dime, or through private donations. This makes me regret the harsh tone of one of my comments on an earlier post of yours about the Manis site in which I criticised the lack of publication. I did wonder at the time if it was because funds were limited, and that would seem to be a contributing factor to the lack of publications about what is clearly an important site. I think it is also important to keep in mind the political situation in the US at this time – when Reagan came in some important archaeological work came to an abrupt end (such as the Ozette project) and funding was pretty hard to come by for many projects in the early 80’s.

    I am looking forward to seeing the results of the CSFA work published in Science. If Gustafson is still alive, I hope that he is pleased with whatever they have come up with. And, since it is a safe bet that Science would not publish negative results or results of purely local importance, I think we can count on some important results of international note. qmackie – we expect your earliest report on the article since many of us don’t have access to online versions of Science and other journals. Thanks for the great job of getting this story out and keeping all of us eagerly waiting the next installment.


  5. APM – agreed, I hope Gustafson gets his due in any fothcoming publications.

    I note looking back at that first post from March 2010, that reader ‘Comstock’ actually tipped us off to analysis being underway, a comment I was a little dismissive of perhaps!


  6. I published a book about the Manis Mastodon, titled, “In a Scoop of Dirt: How Digging a Pond Changed North America’s Prehistory.” I am Emanuel (Manny) Manis’ daughter. I dedicated the book to my father, a man with an insatiable curiosity. I wrote the book to share my enthusiasm for archaeology, using my personal photo library and anecdotes. General information is available at and a shopping cart to order the book is at my author website at No other book has been written about the site!


  7. Richard Michael Gramly

    Dear Folks Who Are Interested in the MM:
    It has been 40 years since the inception of fieldwork at this site, Long ago a proper site report should have been published by someone. Will there ever be one? I should hope so; however, it seems unlikely.
    A scientific experiment (in this case, an archaeological excavation) is not concluded until the results are promulgated.
    Dear reader, will you be the one to give us what we need??????
    R.M.Gramly, PhD


    • Richard, I take your point and it would be very desirable to see a full report, if indeed one can be made, given Gustafson’s death.

      As a short term goal, then getting the MA thesis by Runnings (noted above) digitized, and perhaps someone could work up a publication around the taphonomy, which sounds suggestive.

      This site is a little unusual in that it has always lived or died on the embedded projectile point. More contextual information would be great, but I feel fairly lucky that it got a second look at all.


      • Richard Michael Gramly

        Many thanks for your communication. It would excellent if Delbert Gilbow’s 1981 dissertation should become widely available and Anna Runnings’ 1984 Master’s work become accessible. I have read both documents, and was pleased to have the data. Gilbow speaks (mysteriously) of a caribou antler under the left ulna of the primary proboscidean, and Runnings studied two “artifacts” made from mastodon (?) vertebrae. She did not realize, however, that the polish and striae upon them were likely produced by blows of a stone axe used in butchering and that these objects are not tools at all. Similar damage is to be seen upon the skeleton of the Bowser Road mastodon, Orange County, NY, which is a Clovis-age association of man and mastodon. I draw readers’ attention to the site report that exists for the Bowser Road site. 82 bones were partitioned with a stone axe. Well over 200 bone and antler artifacts had been ritually deposited upon the proboscidean’s skeleton.


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