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.
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.