Manis Mastodon: a 13,800 year old Archaeological Site on the Northwest Coast

CT slice through Mastodon rib exposing bone point profile. Source: Waters et al. 2011.

For a long time, the Manis Mastodon site near Sequim, Washington was the elephant in the room of the Northwest Coast early period.  The apparent bone point embedded in a mastodon rib was seemingly hard to explain by any non-cultural means, yet maddeningly short of definitive proof, and so was politely ignored. The point has always been a thorn in my side too, which is why I have posted on it three times, once over a year ago, and twice recently.

Maybe I am a bit obsessed with it because if I rise gently from my sofa in Blog World Headquarters, being careful not to spill fine single malt on my pyjamas, then through my window I can see Sequim in the extreme distance, seemingly mocking me.

So all the more cathartic that today, with the publication of a convincing re-analysis of the mastodon rib by Michael Waters et al. in the respected journal Science, we can say that the  site is, indeed, evidence of humans hunting Mastodon on the Northwest Coast 13,800 years ago.  That’s about eight hundred years pre-Clovis.  Like I said before: it’s real.  It’s old. It’s on the coast.  Wow.

In common with many papers in this journal, it is very short: not much more than a single page.  There is quite a lot of additional meat in the online supplementary information, which I have seen.  Even so, I haven’t had time to digest the whole article, and my day job is being very demanding right now, so in addition to the general points I raised two weeks ago, here are some more points of interest.

1. The ancient DNA and protein analyses did not work well.  Nonetheless they are able to establish (more or less) that the point itself is made of mastodon bone. From the x-ray above, there is no question it is penetrative and not some kind of pathology.   The identification as “bone” (as opposed to tusk ivory) is referenced to “High-resolution x-ray computed tomography (CT) scanning (15) revealed that the osseous object embedded in the rib is dense bone shaped to a point (Fig. 1 and movies S1 and S2).”   Identification as mastodon obviously rules out antler and the rutting elk theories.  It would be nice to have tusk ivory completely and irrefutably ruled out by examination of cellular structure of the bone point, say.

Close up of Manis specimen. Note the weird eruptive material, within which is the narrow cylindrical bone point. Source: Waters et al 2011 Supplementary Material.

2. The sort of eruptive effect seen on the external pictures of the rib is unexplained – perhaps displaced rib cortical bone?  Close examination of the radiograph at the top of the post shows part of the rib surface bent down along the lower margin of the projectile, and perhaps part was forced upwards as well.  The rim of the eruptive zone does seem very clean where it meets the rib though.

3. The projectile itself is very narrow.  By the scale above, it is only about 4 mm in diameter.  The author’s note that to even contact the rib, the projectile would have had to penetrate 25 to 30 cm of  muscle, and connective tissue.  That’s a foot of meat!  And it doesn’t include the thick skin and hair. And yet, it still had enough grunt to penetrate the rib by over 2 cm.  I’d be more skeptical of this if I hadn’t recently seen Nick’s experiments of thrusting antler points through about 40 cm of ballistics gel, occasionally penetrating into an underlying piece of lumber.  One feature of those experiments to my eye was how tamely the shaft followed the point into the gel – and at Manis, presumably the bone projectile did not measure 32 cm X 0.4 cm: it must have thickened up, then met a shaft or foreshaft.   All the same, for a long, straight bone point then dense mastodon long bone would presumably be just the ticket. While mentioned in the article in passing, it would be quite interesting to see comparison to the Clovis bone rods, one of the largest collections of which is also from Washington State.  These early osseus artifacts are usually interpreted as hafting aids, though we hashed out their potential as bone points in this space a while back – see this quick picture from Lyman et al 1998.

In any case, comparison of the new image to the previous one shows the older one was actually quite misleading.  The new CT scans include some 3-d images (and apparently an online rotational animation of the CT scan in three dimensions, but I haven’t seen those yet  EDIT: see here).  It takes a bit of effort to decode the one in the article (below) but I think it becomes clear that the bone point itself has a markedly narrow length:diameter ratio and is quite straight.  Narrow is good if the goal is to pass between ribs, and/or to penetrate very deeply to reach vital organs.  The pointy end is not that clear, but to my eye seems to be chisel shaped or beveled, though it might well be crushed or warped by the aforementioned linear foot of mastodon meat it just penetrated.  In any case, I think it extremely unlikely that this is a random splinter of bone, it is far more likely to be the end of a projectile point.  Waters is quoted in this Guardian article:

Waters placed the mastodon in an industrial-grade CT scanner at the University of Texas. “It’s more powerful than a hospital one. They’re taking slices every 0.06mm, half the thickness of a piece of paper,” he says. “The 3D rendering clearly showed that the object was sharpened to a tip. It was clearly the end of a bone projectile point.”

Three dimensional image from the Manis CT Scan. The pale cylinder running upper right to lower left is the point. The wave-shaped thin object is the rib surface, rest of rib is digitally removed. Note apparent rib surface shatter driven into cancellous rib, lower centre./ Edit: Waters podcast says apparent "shatter" is the broken tip of point rotated to one side, which makes it an even more likely artifact I think./ Source: Waters et al. 2011

4. One surprise is that they assert the animal did not, as previously thought, survive for months after this wound: there is no sign of wound healing.  This actually makes a tidier story of a single event “kill-butchery site”, for the authors also accept without comment at least some of the previous studies (e.g., D. Gilbow thesis) of the bones showing impact fractures, spiral fractures, cut marks, and a systematic pattern of disarticulation.  Hunting in a wetland is, of course, quite characteristic of  early American adaptations, and is also the pattern at the nearby, contemporaneous, Ayer PondDaniel Fisherhas been able to do remarkably fine-grained seasonality studies on mastodon tusks – which may have an almost-daily encoding of growth.  It seems like a missed opportunity not to attempt this at Manis, thus establishing the season of death.  It would also have been most welcome for the supplemental materials to illustrate (with photographs) the bone characteristics said to result from butchery.  The compelling illustrative material from the Ayer Pond report sets a good example in this regard, allowing readers to clearly see the specimens in question and follow the argument closely.  It’d be great to see the Manis skeleton as a whole receive that treatment.

5. It does raise the question of whether there were any trees or bluffs around to fire the projectile from, which entered the animals middle back from above at about a 60 degree angle.  The authors suggest that perhaps it was a lance used in a thrusting motion, which I actually have some sympathy with – we made the suggestion at the SAA conference in Vancouver that some early NW Coast organic projectiles may have been killing lances for dispatching large fauna from boats, in caves, or other awkward places of inter-species rendezvous. Nick Waber is also including this general idea in his forthcoming thesis.  An atl-atl dart launched at close range at a downed mastadon can’t be ruled out, however.

6. A suite of radiocarbon dates were run, showing definitively that the rib (found out of context) is exactly contemporaneous with the rest of the mastodon (found in situ).  The table above shows the four new dates used, including the new one on the rib. A number of other dates were also run, all by Tom Stafford through the respected lab at Irvine (UCIAMS).  One curious feature of the dates is that, judging by the lab numbers (e.g., 11350, 29113), which are issued sequentially at Irvine, and comparing them to lab numbers from projects I have worked on, then these new Manis radiocarbon dates were run in about 2005.  This shows that the Manis reanalysis has been going on for quite some time.

7. The authors’ conclusions are apt, but strike a slightly sour note in some ways:

The absence of stone projectile points at Manis, Hebior, Schaefer, and Orcas Island and the presence of an osseous projectile point at Manis suggest that osseous projectile points may have been the pre- dominant hunting weapon during the pre-Clovis period. Bone and ivory points and other tools are common in the Upper Paleolithic of Siberia and in late Pleistocene sites in Beringia (22–24). They are durable and lethal hunting weapons that continued to be used during and after Clovis (16, 23, 25). The invention and spread of a new hunting weapon at 13 ka—the Clovis lithic point— may have accelerated the demise of or doomed the last megafaunal species.

As Dale Croes and David Rice commented in my earlier post, perhaps we really are dealing with a widespread pre-Clovis bone point tradition out here on the NW Coast, and elsewhere (though what about those pre-Clovis “Miller Points” and El Jobo points, etc.?).  In particular, they note Alex Krieger’s “pre-projectile point hypothesis”, which Waters et al. do not mention.  Speaking of authorship, it is most welcome to see Carl Gustafson as a co-author, considering his close connection to the site over the last 25 years.  I’ve moaned about the Manis uncertainty at length but, you know, without Gustafson we probably wouldn’t have anything to talk about at all.

But as I was saying, the rather cavalier assertion that the invention of Clovis projectile points somehow hastened the extinction of Megafauna seems once again to place undue privilege, or undue burden, on a sort of “Clovis Exceptionalism” which I think is unhelpful in early period archaeology.  In the Science news report (which is behind a paywall) Gary Haynes perpetuates the centrality of Clovis as an archaeological construct:

Haynes adds that the oldest Clovis sites are “only” 8 centuries younger than Manis. Thus the rib “may actually indicate the earliest beginning of the Clovis era, or an immediately proto-Clovis stage of human dispersal,” he says. “Proto-Clovis” peoples in small numbers may have filtered south from Beringia as early as 14,000 years ago, he says, although their impact was negligible until the arrival of Clovis technology. To Waters, such talk of “proto-Clovis” amounts to “grasping at straws.”

I mean, we don’t talk about Clovis as “pre-Folsom”, so I’m going to start a campaign to just outright banish the term “pre-Clovis” except strictly as a temporal marker – those folks were not trying to become Clovis, Clovis was an unknown cultural expression eight centuries in their future.

8. Speaking of Clovis Exceptionalism, I was very interested to see that one of the non-anonymous reviewers thanked in the article is Stuart Fiedel, who has been one of the most outspoken critics of any pre-Clovis occupation in the Americas.  Either he is in agreement with this paper, or his critique of the paper was insufficient to modify the authors’ strong conclusions, or to prevent publication in this top journal.  The paper thus seems almost “immunized” against certain genres of criticism.

Though really, with the equally convincing paper from earlier this year, also by Michael Waters et al., on the pre-Clovis Buttermilk Creek Complex (Friedkin Site) in Texas, it would be harder than ever to drive pre-Clovis advocates en masse over a cliff. And the fundamental insecurity at the heart of the “Clovis First” arguments was always that it only took one legitimate pre-Clovis site to pull aside that curtain.  I think it’s fair to say that we now have a handful of solid pre-Clovis sites, including at least four (Paisley Cave, Monte Verde, Ayer Pond and Manis Mastodon) on the western margins of the Americas, of which two are only a few tens of kilometers apart right here in the Salish Sea.  It’s a good time to be an archaeologist on the Northwest Coast.

Reconstructed trajectory and location of bone point relative to sample Mastodon. No Mastodons were harmed in the making of this image. Source: Waters et al. 2011 Supplementary Material.


Michael R. Waters, Thomas W. Stafford Jr., H. Gregory McDonald, Carl Gustafson, Morten Rasmussen, Enrico Cappellini, Jesper V. Olsen, Damian Szklarczyk, Lars Juhl Jensen, M. Thomas P. Gilbert, Eske Willerslev  2011.
Pre-Clovis Mastodon Hunting 13,800 Years Ago at the Manis Site, Washington. Science  334 (21):351-353.

55 responses to “Manis Mastodon: a 13,800 year old Archaeological Site on the Northwest Coast

  1. Wow, interesting post! Although I can’t quite see Sequim from my bedroom window, Dallas Road is just a short walk away, and it’s always great to get more background on the Olympic Peninsula!


  2. Hi Nevin, yes it’s cool to have something so cool, so close.

    There’s a good blog/magazine post here which shows a nice picture of Waters and Gustafson together:

    Also, I should mention the podcast with Waters is very good (I think it’s an open link and not behind a paywall:


  3. great to see that Gustafson is a co-author on this!


  4. FYI – Newly published information on the Manis topic. Please check out the following link:


  5. do they have any suggestions about the “the weird eruptive material” around the entry point? Bone fragments displaced by the impact? Val


  6. Wow indeed. I’m also very happy for Gus.
    I still don’t think this settles the matter alone for the discipline at large, but in combo with other sites, especially Paisley Cave (which curiously isn’t mentioned by anyone in Science pieces or the Guardian, unless I missed it), it materially strengthens the cable of evidence, to use Wylie’s simile.

    I haven’t read the supplemental material yet, or listened to the podcast; I did watch the two movies which were fun but I’m not sure they’re all that useful for answering detailed questions about the bone point. I wish Waters et al. had used their limited space to say more about the evidence rather than dragging in Pleistocene overkill. Also, proposing a pre-Clovis bone point culture on the basis of a single object and negative evidence is stretching things pretty far and also detracts from the fundamental argument. I’m with you on banning “pre-Clovis” from the lexicon.

    Enjoy the single malt. This deserves a good one.



  7. qmackie – you called it as to what it takes to deal with the sceptics. In that Guardian article linked to by David Rice above is the following quote: “What would it take to finally convince the sceptics? “I’m not going to dig my heels in and stonewall it,” said Haynes. “If they yanked it out and showed that there are scraping marks and it’s been polished and shaped, that would convince me.”” Its as if he read your blog, or something.

    As to hunting method. Probably we should keep in mind the possibility of weighted spear traps which were contrived to fall on an animal, driving a spear into their spine. Usually a “trip wire” was involved. Since weighted bear traps were used up to the time of contact, it is not inconceivable that this kind of trap was used long ago as well. They work at a safe distance for the hunter, and apparently are effective against elephants. I guess one counter argument would be the angle at which the spear is driven into the Manis mastodon, which may not be consistent with the drop of a weighted spear.


  8. qmackie – you/your blog are quoted quite extensively in this article –


  9. I find it interesting that the use of an atlatl and dart seem to barely have any mention. The entry angle and depth of penetration would seem to be consistent with what the weapons system is capable of producing. In George C. Frison’s paper “Use of Clovis Weaponry and Tools on African Elephants” he was able to get penetration into the lungs and stomach of the African Elephants tested with an atlatl. Granted, the obvious differences between the hide of Elephants and Mastodons, I feel its still a relatively good indicator of penetration. Frison also talks about his chert points breaking upon impacting ribs, perhaps that’s why they were using bone points.


  10. qmackie, you’ve raised great points here (it’s hilariously interpretive of you to notice the Irvine lab number difference). In some ways they could have done much more, but they obviously had enough to get it through to this level. i guess there can/will be more detailed papers to follow up…

    It seems to me that a major hook in landing this with the editors was the dangling narrative of this site being a vaguely plausible Clovis progenitor (big game – big men – big spears, etc… same old same old). Whats more disappointing is they while they ostensibly dismiss the “Clovis blitzkrieg” they appear to pre-suppose a pre-clovis blitzkrieg (what a terrible word in any and all circumstances btw) …. here comes Paul Martin’s overkill story all over again….

    anyhow wave hi across the water to Sequim for us and congrats to everyone who helped make this possible


  11. Wow! A Manisian age site right on our doorstep. Makes me want to run up to the terraces on burnaby mountain with a spade right now.

    However in all seriousness this is probably the start of a small revolution in colonization phase archaeology as hundreds of grad students start looking through drawers of pleistocene fossils going “I wonder”. Once again all technocomplexes are not stone, and there is probably a good case to made that coastal migratory complex would have used wood/bone to the exclusion of stone as a matter of practicality. this also puts paid to the idea that the French walked across the Atlantic with vague memories of soloutrean to give us Clovis. It developed here from non- lithic (?)antecedents.

    However I do now worry that every kind of fractured bone will trotted out as bone points, and soon we’ll have a sequence stretching back to Pliocene, based on less evolved bone fragments turning into more evolved bone fragments. These kinds of rigorous path breaking studies do tend to throw open the pseudoarchaeological doors. Which is why I suspect that pre-Clovis got such a rough ride for many years.

    Does it let humans off the hook for megafaunal extinction? probably not. In every single other glacial interglacial transition megafauna survived and thrived. It needn’t have been a wild blood thirsty rampage from one end of the Americas to another, but the steady pressure of big game hunting coupled with environmental change is likely to have caused extinction.

    All in all though a wonderful example of how rigorous examination of old material can yield something truly startling.


    • Humans must have had some impact. Studies clearly show large herbivore populations declining through time post Last Glacial Maximum, pre-Clovis (**dammit there’s that word again**). Maybe that’s the impact of people. Fisher has shown some plausible work with tusks consistent with human hunting and not environmental stress.

      But with respect to the glaciation cycles, there is suggestion that the Younger Dryas event at 12,800-11,500 cal BP was unique to the most recent cycle. Also, the last glacial maximum was the deepest for hundreds of thousands of years. Thinking of the return to near modern temperatures in the Bolling-Allerod, albeit with substantial fluctuations, followed by extremely rapid descent into the Younger Dryas, and a rapid ascent out of it, you have the (simplified) scenario of a millennial scale: VERYCOLD1-PRETTYWARM1-DAMNCOLD2-VERYWARM2 cycle which means, (just blowing smoke here) that:

      Warm1 stresses Cold1 populations adaptive traits selected out of a Cold1 gene pool. Cold2 arrives SUDDENLY and finds loss of Cold1 traits. Population struggles to find variation needed to adapt. Doesn’t make it to Warm2 (Holocene). It’s a double filter, so to speak.

      Most post glacial cycles had nothing like the depth and suddenness of Cold2/YD as far as I know.

      Or maybe it was just demographic push into a downward spiral.

      (Yes, Younger Dryas was more complex than that, and might have had little or no effect in southern North America say. But that’s the point, too – it’s complex.).

      But if the YD was caused by the catastrophic release of glacial Lake Agassiz, then previous glacial Lake Agassiz’s may not have debouched in the same manner or extent. Meanwhile though, Australian megafauna gone ca. 50,000 BP and Madagascar around 2,000 BP while European megafauna co-existed with humans until post-LGM. It’s quite the multidimensional problem and one that archaeologists tend to see through their own lens, which is the lens in the sight of a hunting rifle. Biologists are much more nuanced.


  12. “through my window I can see Sequim” Hmmm. I guess that makes you the Sarah Palin of NW Coast archaeology…

    re. the angle of attack of this point – It’s possible to down or weaken an animal with a projectile (or a trap), but often you still need to kill it. We know from ethnologies that aboriginal hunters around here, for instance, carried a killing lance along with their bow and arrows or harpoon. The lance was a sharpened stick with a fire-hardened point, long enough to keep the hunter out of the reach of kicking hooves or flailing bear claws. Maybe with an animal as large as a mastodon you couldn’t get close enough to it with a lance (lance = handheld, spear = thrown), so you had to shoot it a lot once it was down.

    Nuu-Chah-Nulth whalers made use of a killing lance, though.

    “The absence of stone projectile points… and the presence of an osseous projectile point at Manis suggest that osseous projectile points may have been the pre-dominant hunting weapon during the pre-Clovis period.” – This is specious reasoning, though you see it everywhere. If a projectile point is “not-stone”, it is not “therefore bone-or-antler”. The default should always be wood. It is highly likely that the vast majority of all projectile points made since the beginning of time were made of wood.

    I could quote chapter and verse, but instead I’ll just quote Dale Croes:
    “The Ozette Village wet site, with collapsed houses recovered from under a massive clay mudslide dating to about 300 years ago, produced huge numbers of arrow components: [including] 5,189 wooden arrowpoints… Also note that… wooden arrowpoints immensely outnumbered the rare stone (N = 7), bone, and shell projectile points (Gleason 1980). Without preservation, their presence would have been unknown to us today.”

    It is interesting that even archaeologists need to be reminded of the Preservation Problem.

    One reason this point wasn’t looked at for 25 years is that it wasn’t made of stone (sexy), or wasn’t a Clovis point (very very sexy). If they’d suspected it was a Clovis point they would have pulled it out the day after they found it.

    For general interest, I draw your attention to “Experimental Use of Clovis Weaponry and Tools on African Elephants” by George C. Frison. He only uses the stone Clovis points though…


    • I guess that makes you the Sarah Palin of NW Coast archaeology…

      When I “Go Rogue”, like a beta-Mastodon expelled from the matriarchal herd, look out.

      You and Ocron make good points, there is a wooden elephant in the room as well. In some settings, archaeologists are perfectly content to infer the use of wood. I mean, I’ve never heard anyone suggest that Clovis folks didn’t have shafts on their spears/darts/lances. But the logical extension of the sorts of careful wood selection and woodworking skills which that implies is somehow absent – yes archaeology is an empirical discipline but we do know enough to have some, I think, baseline expectations of what technological capacities early Americans had – and that must include wood. I mean, they are late Upper Palaeolithic people. They are closer in time to Einstein than they are to Lascaux.

      Speaking of which, I saw that even Neanderthals had frickin’ wooden shovels! Maybe to clean up after their pet mastodons.

      Now, speaking of bone points: there have been many, many experimental studies done which show the usefulness of this material. It’s slightly flexible, it’s not as brittle as stone, it can have a more cylindrical or at least a smaller cross-section which aids penetration. I don’t have it to hand, but studies like one where they fire the points at the ground (!) and organic tips last for 20 hits while stone points last for like, 3. I said a few weeks ago, let’s give it some analytical love.

      Point being: let’s get over the bone point thing as a thing, and start to analyse why people would have chosen bone, or wood, or stone, according to the task at hand (risky? time sensitive? Need repetitive strikes?) and the properties of the material. This is the essence of the “design theory” approach in archaeology and I’m glad to see some archaeologists locally are giving it a workout.

      And to get to the second point: let’s do the same for wooden projectile points, and try to understand their design parameters such that we can enter them into a dialogue with the circumstances of their use and understand why people may have chosen them, task by task.


      • qmackie – mastodon-bull wearing lipstick? kinda hard to get that one in focus. pit-bull has a more sensible ring to it, for an archaeologist, lipsticked or not.


        • Come now! I think that she should live up to her word, and secure a summer cottage on St. Lawrence Island, instead of the one in Tucson!


      • Quentin,

        I like your “two pronged” approach in catching the broader cultural significance of bone/antler and wood use in the context of Clovis & pre-Clovis times. Some of your suggestions for scientific inquiry of non-stone evidence echo earlier works of Alan Bryan, Rob Bonnichsen, Alex Krieger, and others.

        Regarding the use of wooden projectiles in pre-Clovis times, I think one of the challenges will be in envlsioning (developing the imagination) to appreciate) the context of 12,000-16,000 years ago. In many parts of the NW environmental conditions would be tundra-like, and suitable wood resources would be ‘scrubby’ and relatively scarce compared to today. Even in the ethno-historic times, in areas where forest wood was abundant, there was a trade network to secure ‘favored’ wood types for use as bows & arrows (ie, yew). If we presume that human populations were small and widely scattered, then an effective trade system would be important for survival. Indeed, some of the lithic types used in Clovis times indicates that such trade networks for suitable stone existed in those times (ie, obsidian, some cherts).

        Yes, imagination is a necessary element in the study of these early times. It is, in fact, that element that is often dismissed in the scientific identification of alternative ‘truths’ that illustrate the resiliency, flexibility, and innovative creativity of the First Peoples. So, an understanding of the technological assemblage in the broadest imaginable sense is necessary, as well as an appreciation of the range of available resources in changing environmental settings. The challenge requires both scientific knowledge and humanistic imagination.

        David Rice


      • David – your point is an excellent one. I think it can also be used as an argument as to why early people in this area would stayclose to the shorelines, or at least visit them regularily. There surely was driftwood on the northwest coast beaches in the late Pleistocene and early Holocene, even if in smaller amounts than now. It was a very dynamic time with rising sea levels, drowning forests to the south, mass wasting on coastlines and inland, and the rivers disgorging unbelievable quantities of sediment into the oceans (in some places large pieces of wood are found in such sediments from the time period in question). The off shore currents carry floating debris from the south into this area, the rivers ringing the Salish Sea disgorged their loads here as well. Even if larger pieces of wood were scarce on the landscape, the Salish Sea is very likely to have been a bit of a net capturing floating debris from a significant chunk of western North America.


      • Further to David’s exhortation for open minds, I think it is worth remembering the layers of complexity that can be associated with hunting very large animals. There are so many cultural models for dealing with the difficulty and danger of such hunting, and there is no really good reason to suppose that many of these kinds of complexity did not exist 14,000 years ago – for instance the specialised manufacture of equipment, largely of perishable organics, must be a given.

        I just linked the following paper of Waterman’s on another one of qmackie’s posts but do so here as well for different reasons. The materials (of whale hunting in this instance), they way they are combined, the wide range of sources for such materials (marine, terrestrial, animal, vegetable, etc) and how the material culture is encased in various aspects of social organisation and ritual practices really should be part of opening one’s mind when considering these kinds of mega-fauna hunts.


    • I agree – Pete’s is a good point, well made – wood working is absolutely essential to survival. Someone on one of your blog comments in the past said that they could not understand why people were making such a big thing about bone points and so on. I expect that NW *Coast* archaeologists just have a different view of “megafauna” and how to kill it. The coast is where whale hunting was wide spread. Whales are the ultimate megafauna (I remember reading that the *tongue* of a blue whale weighs more than an entire elephant!). They were hunted from wooden boats, using shell and bone armed wooden shafts with sinew and bark lines and skin floats and as Pete says, finished off with killing lances made of wood – after a wild ride dragged along by the outraged whale. Other coastal people hunted whales from skin boats with the additional aid of poison. I think this knowledge, which us NWC archaeologists become steeped in, gives us a bit of a “so what?” attitude to stone tipped spears that are hurled from a safe (ish) distance (with not threat of drowning) at a comparatively small mega animal. It is merely the kinds of things people do to feed themselves, and probably more importantly, to acquire all kinds of essential raw materials like bone and sinew and hide. In most ways it is no different than hunting rodents or birds. What, for instance, is the real difference, other than a bit of work, between killing a bear in a deadfall trap and a gopher in a snare or a bird in a net? And what of those activities would leave a trace in the usual archaeological record.


  13. Pingback: Anthropology 4F03: Archaeological Theory Hub » Mastadon’s with bone points

  14. Talk about centricity, this reminded me of the apparent mastadon recovered in Sandspit, Haida Gwaii, in 1907 and reported upon by Dalzell (1968, 244-245). In short, two prospectors heard of large bones at sandspit, went there and recovered several bones and an 18.5 foot tusk, brought them to Vancouver for people to see for 30 cents a look (I think these bones went on to a circus tour but not sure why I think that). This brought about a flurry of people looking for these bones at sandspit with a resident “remembers seeing large excavations in many places on her father’s land… told that the holes had been made by people searching for old bones”. The residents managed to save some, a part of a rib and vertebrae which were “lying in the shade of a tree in the vegetable garden” ca 1968. Came across a online book excerpt (Annotated bibliography of Quaternary vertebrates of northern North America … By Charles Richard Harington, Canadian Museum of Nature) which suggested the ‘tusk’ may have been the mandible of a large whale. At any point, have always thought that would be a no brainer for some one to follow up on. I spent some time in sandspit a few years back and it was suggested I go to the old house, the bones (in the garden) are still there… On the to do list for sure…. As far as I can tell, when you fly into sandspit you are landing pretty darn close to where the bones were originally found.


  15. Ken – agreed – Gustafson (who I’ve never met) must feel, I dunno, vindicated maybe? Maybe the convergence of high res CT scans, aDNA, and super-precise dating would have been impossible before now, anyway.

    Val: yes, the eruptive material is quite the mystery. I suppose bone is plastic enough to be deformed in this manner but it does seem surprising. I am assuming they do not think it was part of the bone point. All the focus is on the slender dense object. I’d like a reasonable sounding discussion of the eruptive bone issue!

    APM – do you know anything more about those traps? They sound deadly, but also sort of complicated and Rube Goldbergesque.

    Pete, Ocron (again) should have mentioned, the more I think about it the less likely I think it was a lance. That depth of penetration …. maybe an almost dead mastodon and they ran at it with a lance! But at the same time, you have the mastodon down and dying, sheesh, take a cigarette break and enjoy the fine views Sequim has to offer.

    twoeyes – yes, like I note above, there is slight evidence for human involvement in megafauna die-off, other than guilt-by-association. It’s a topic that needs to be looked at clear-eyed and archaeologists, especially those of this period, are not always known for that dispassion.

    jim – it’d be good to track that mastodon down. It might be pre-Glacial Maximum, but who knows? A reader kindly sent me a bundle of archival newspaper clippings on proboscidean finds in NW Washington which I intend to make a post about in the next week or two. Take home: there’re a lot of them, and each one now a potential archaeological site. Speaking of, there is the Wenas Mammoth, probably not archaeological but who knows:

    Also: welcome to Andy “Two Sherds” Roddick’s class. Pro-Tip – he over-uses (p<0.01) response (b) on his multiple choice questions, so if you're guessing that's pretty safe.


    • About the weighted spear traps.

      Searching the internet finds quite a few references to them in connection to hunting elephant and other large animals in both Africa and India.

      For instance, in his book The power of animals: an ethnography, Brian Morris describes such traps in Malawi:
      “Mchera (lao nyemba). This is the falling spear trap … widely used in the past to kill elephant, hyena, hippopotamus and leopard. It consisted of a beam of wood up to two metres long, armed with an iron spike or spear, which was usually poisoned. The beam was suspended in an overhanging position over the animal track, especially near paths leading to watering places. The beam was held by a strong cord over a forked pole, the cord being attached to a trip mechanism at ground level. When released by the passing mammal, the weighted spear forcefully penetrated the animal’s spine. Both Livingstone and Kirk mention that the banks of the Shire River in the middle of the nineteenth century were ‘dotted’ with this kind of trap, especially during the dry season. Elephant and hippopotamus were the main mammals trapped, animals which not only had high value as meat and for their skins and ivory, but tended to create havoc in the dimba gardens of the local people.”

      Another article, which I can only access the first page of, appears to be a survey of such traps throughout Africa.
      It opens with:
      “The trap we are here concerned with is mainly used for elephant and hippopotamus, but even for rhinoceros, buffalo, antelopes and crocodile. The spear employed is suspended from a tree-branch, or, if there is not a suitable one at hand, from a pole or the like fixed up horizontally between two trees in such a way that the spear, weighted with a heavy log, is placed directly above the path by which the quarry is expected to come along. Where no suitable trees are available, it will be necessary to plant an upright post on either side of the game-path, the harpoon then being suspended in the way indicated. The idea is that this is to strike the head or neck of the animal that passes below it and springs the trap, when death soon results. In cases where the spear only strikes the back (the spine expected), it will take some time until there has been sufficient loss of blood to cause the collapse of the animal. This may, however, take place only after a very protracted interval, and then eventually give rise to litigation”


      • Fascinating that both mention the strike targets the spine. At Manis, the point forced its way into the rib after passing under a vertebral process – one of the boney processes which project from the sides and top of most spinal vertebrae. The force must have been incredible from a weighted, sprung spear in one of those traps – could explain the (perhaps extraordinary) penetration of the Manis point.

        Large animal traps are on interpretation of the enigmatic Kilgii Gwaay site at 10,700 cal BP, where black bears remains are common, the site is not in the hibernation season, and there is a distinct lack of projectile points in a large assemblage which also preserved bone.

        McLaren et al have suggested summer time bear trapping as a plausible explanation, drawing on ethnographic examples of Tlingit and Haida bear traps. Miraculously, the paper is online: (Word Doc download)

        Obviously a different scale and approach, but nonetheless, large mammal trapping may already be known from the Pleistocene-Holocene transition.

        Edit: I should add, in reference to the poisoning elephants idea, that the Aleut used strong poisons on whales, which they would lance at sea then hope to recover the dead carcasses on the beaches. Lower risk for very high reward. Who knows the antiquity, but at least some megamammal poisoning is known from the North Pacific. The poison was Aconite / wolfsbane / monkshood. Brief description of the process here, online:


  16. Interestingly, the Center for the Study of the First Americans has now taken the paragraph about Manis results off its website:

    This was the paragraph which led to my post from a couple of weeks ago which, I guess in a sense (unintentionally) scooped the Science article. But now the cat is out of the bag why not put it back up – it’s great publicity for the CSFA who do admirable work. Screenshot of the defunct paragraph at the older post here:


  17. My guess is that (a) they wanted to control the quotes appearing in the press via the Science news releases and did not want any messaging “noise” from their website and (b) they are preparing a new entry for the website based on the Science information, now that it is available, with associated images and mention of their publication. Blowing their horn, as they rightly deserve, in a controlled manner consistent with other Current and Past projects on their website.


  18. Concerning the spear traps. If I remember correctly, there was no tree pollen found in association with the Manis caucus. And, again if my memory serves me, Archaeologists thought it puzzling that a Mastodon, which as I understand it, feeds exclusively on trees, would be in a treeless environment. The spear traps used in the paper linked above all rely on having one large tree or a suspend “pole” between two trees. To (again) quote the first page of the paper “The spear employed is suspended from a tree-branch, or, if there is not a suitable one at hand, from a pole or the like fixed up horizontally between two trees.” Not to totally discount this theory, but it seems overly complicated to be practical… at least in this particular situation. I’ll try to dig up the pollen references, if for nothing more than personal education/enjoyment. I have jstor access and I will read the full paper linked above as I have time.

    To touch on the lance. The location of the wound, would seem not to be in a convenient place to lance an animal of that size and probable ferocity. The way I see it, either we had a brave hunter jumping on the back of the Proboscidean, not very likely if you ask me. The other option is, someone lanced the animal in the back while it was lying down. If the animal was in fact lying down, be it sleeping or dying, the question must be raised, why stab the a Mastodon in the back? There would surely be a plethora of more effective places to dispatch or mortally wound the animal.


  19. Hi Ocron, I just wanted to put the idea of traps into the discussion, as it was missing. There are logistical issues for sure, but surely mastodon hunting is all about logistics. Nothing simple about it. But don’t get me wrong, I’m not arguing that we must therefore construct a complicated scenario. I like the simple ones best.

    You did selectively quote from the sources I posted above and left out “Where no suitable trees are available, it will be necessary to plant an upright post on either side of the game-path, the harpoon then being suspended in the way indicated.” Also, in those sources it is clear that the animals can travel some distance from the trap site before they die. Immediate proximaty of the Manis site to an appropriate place for an overhead trap is not necessary, though I admit begins to stretch things into the less-than-probable. As I said elsewhere in these comments, there should be no shortage of wood in the area – on the beaches if not actually growing on the landscape.

    I think the angle of entry for the Manis Mastodon spear/dart is a stronger argument against a weighted trap than anything else; I would expect an entry wound that was closer to 90 degrees relative to the top of the spine from such an arrangement. Elephant hunting can also involved various means of cutting the tendons in a leg (including grabbing onto the leg from a hiding place and slashing it as the elephant passes – sounds risky, eh?). Once the tendons of one leg are cut the elephant is down, or part way down, and I could see bone killing lances coming into the picture at that time in a hunt. Anyway, its fun to speculate. I hope that these results will see more work on the Manis materials, or site, and that we get some better idea of what might have happened.


  20. For readers in Seattle, tomorrow (Sunday 23rd Oct) is “Ice Age Archaeology Day” at the Burke Museum. Very timely!


  21. This article:

    Has a nice picture of Clare Manis Hatler standing beside a monument to her late husband Manny, and some comments from Clare about the discovery. It also has some other news and notes from individuals involved, including Gustafson who hints at more to come:

    Gustafson, one of the scientists who wrote the Science journal article, was finally recognized after 34 years and new technologies verified his findings.

    “The techniques weren’t available in the ’70s or ’80s, so when Mike called, I was tickled pink,” Gustafson, retired from WSU for 12 years now, said of Michael Waters, an archaeologist at Texas A&M University who contacted him about three years ago, offering to use CT scanning at Texas A&M to get a close-up view of the buried bone point.

    That helped them conclude the point was 10 inches long and had been sharpened, said Gustafson, who dug on the Manis site from 1977 to 1985, taking a year off in 1984.

    Gustafson said he left the site knowing full well then what he had found.

    “At that time, my conclusion was I thought there couldn’t be any other way, that this was human caused,” he said.

    For the most recent study, Gustafson said, he “provided background informatio, and the bones and all the wherewithal to get started.”

    [ . . . ]

    “At our site, we had 14,000 calendar years of deposits, and we had to track the layers of the ground,” he said.

    From what he surmised, the dead mastodon was lying in 2 to 3 feet of water, “and they took what they could get and moved it up-slope” using stone tools to cut through the meat.

    Gustafson has been retired from WSU for 13 years but said his studies will not end with the Manis mastodon.

    He said he has other findings and different bone artifacts from the Manis site that he has not reported.

    He said he has at least six to eight sets of “what appeared to be bones that were worked by humans, and I’m calling those artifacts.

    “Before this [article], nobody would believe these were artifacts.”

    . . .


  22. I thought I’d throw this in the mix. I came across this site on ‘Mammoth rubbing rocks’ in CA.

    Also related pdf here…

    Click to access mammothrocks.pdf

    That’s pretty wild stuff, can see these things (large rocks) being pretty useful in a tree less environ, be interested to hear of any such features found on the NWC.


  23. Hi jim

    Hey, that stuff is really cool. At first I thought, “huh, kind of woowoo” but they’ve done quite a bit of work. Short of some mammoth protein residue I’m not sure how they’d prove it (I mean, its a rubbing site not a kill site so not sure still what they hoped to achieve by digging) but then again, DNA can be extracted from soil these days.

    More generally, apparently Manis Mastodon will be discussed (Interview with Michael Waters) on Saturday’s Quirks and Quarks show. I only know this because CBC is linking to this blog. FInally!


    • Yeah, it is quite something, I came across lots of images of Bison rubbing stones as well, one group of geology students wondering if one rock was glacial polish or bison rub…
      Reminds me of some images this summer of a grizzly bear scratching itself against a tree.
      All in all, an interesting clue to a tree less environ and paleo critter activity. I’d certainly test near one of these!


  24. more follow up press coverage: a cover story in tomorrow’s Seattle Times about Manis via Guftason’s efforts

    hiding his light under a bushel – hilarious….


    • The comments are typically, uh, variable in insightfulness. But this one puts me firmly in my place:

      “I just think Carl was hiding his light under a bushel,” Mackie said. “I respect what Carl did. He poured countless hours into documenting the site. But for the rest of us, we rely on publication of results in peer-reviewed journals, and I don’t think his evidence was presented in a way that was persuasive enough. And I hate to say that.”

      This statement epitomizes the elitist attitude of so many academicians. Gustafson spent scores of years working on his find both at home and at the site and to say that the manner in which he presented his evidence was not credible (in so many words) smacks of elitism. It also devalued Gustafson’s efforts, IMHO. What is analagous to this is the granting of tenure at research universities…the professors/adjunct faculty who are “published” and also have large grants will be given the tenure regardless of how ineffective they are as teachers in the classroom (the grad assistants more often than not teach their classes).

      I am happy for Gustafson that he has been vindicated. (On another note, how long did it take forensic anthropologists to discover the manner in which Otzi, the Ice Man discovered in 1991 in the Italian Alps, died: over ten years AFTER they found him because a forensic anthropologist decided to go back over the body scans that were originally taken and found the arrowhead.) Time and technological advances provide windows into the past but it takes people like Gustafson who are deeply committed to their life’s passion to discover the evidence!


      • well, you sure put it gently

        A subtext of this long-term process might be those never published papers that were submitted to peer reviewed journals and rejected…

        for the record, this was not Gustafson’s first paper in Science, he is well known in historical ecological circles for identifying that northern fur seals were hyper-abundant at the Ozette archaeological site in ways that differ from their modern distribution which has implications for understanding their contemporary ecology in the context of the N Pacific ecosystem

        Gustafson, Carl E. (1968) Prehistoric Use of Fur Seals: Evidence from the Olympic Coast of Washington. Science 161(3836):49–51.


      • This little snippet has made it onto John Hawks’ blog, which I consider the biggest and best Anthropology blog out there (mostly bio-anth) so it’s notable I guess:


  25. OK, I’ve read these posts over and over, followed the links, reviewed the scans and 3-D visualizations; am I the only one who can’t see a clear artifact here? (Ocron hints at having issues with the scenario too). I don’t see a “whittled” much less a ground bone point. Its completely asymmetrical and has a very short bevel. I do find comfort that there are asymmetrically bevelled ground bone pieces with gross similarities in CLovis assemblages – but that still doesn’t make it a convincing point.

    Q, you were very dismissive in an earlier post of Richey and Roberts not calling the Clovis bone/ivory rods ‘projectile points’. But their article is very clear that they carefully considered all the various functions attributed to the rods over the years. They have good arguments for their not being projectile points or foreshafts. They considered the potential use for spearing elephants. The pairing in the the Washington cache of an equal number of Clovis points and these rods they found very suggestive, and they have a pretty good argument for the big Clovis points being too big to work as projectile points, and rather functioning as butchering tools until resharpening reduced them sufficiently to make them great points. I liked their argument that the rods would make perfect wedges for quick tightening of hafted knives, which tend to loosen quickly in messy butchering – and that the breakage pattern evident fit this function. You wouldn’t expect such an object to wind up in a mastodon rib.

    Just last week we had a dentalium shell driven deeply into a human humerus. At first glance, it looked like it must have been at time of death or burial; indeed, there were suggestions from the local communitiy for dentalium spiked clubs doing in northern raiders. But not only were there other dentalia forming a necklace around the ancestor’s neck and shoulders (clearly not a weapon), but close examination showed the penetration to be a fluke of the backhoe hitting it. There were microscopic fresh white breaks of the shell just where it entered the bone, and interestingly, very similar-looking (to Manis, but in miniature) eruptive bone around the puncture. This really struck me, given the current Manis discussion, as just how easily strange seemingly inexplicable things can happen – especially when hydraulic machinery is involved in the excavation. How certain is everyone of the age of the puncture? Just how clear is the bony regrowth around the entrance point? This latest study obviously convinced the Science editors, but so have a number of other red herrings.


  26. Q – Kudos to you, your contrition here is admirable. Your reported comments were balanced enough; the reporter chose to emphasise the slightly critical half. And how critical was it actually? After all, you (purportedly) said that he hid “his light”, not that he hid his (“dark”, or some other negative quality).

    Morley – You make some good *points*. (Ha! Archaeology humour folks. Maybe it sounds better when you’re sipping warm scotch from a dirty mug, choking on the smoke from the campfire and your own B.O. Or Quentin’s.)

    You note that the tips of bone (or other) points don’t need to be symmetrical. The tips of many unilaterally-barbed points, for instance, aren’t. (I’m not suggesting this bit of intrusive bone was unilaterally-barbed.) If it was a point, couldn’t the tip have been broken before it entered this rib, say by first striking a vertebra on its trajectory? Do we know that the “eruptive bone” is actually part of the rib? Could it instead be part of the point, sheared back as it entered the rib, resulting in an altered tip profile? (It might be hard to tell, as both the rib and the point are mastodon bone.)


  27. The “eruptive bone” is indeed a big mystery, not addressed at all so far as I can tell by Waters et al., and the dentalia analogue you cite Morley sounds fascinating. I would never have thought it could be produced on archaeological bone, it looks clearly like a green bone / flexible bone phenomenon.

    Re: pointiness, though, I think Waters says in one of the interviews that tip is in two pieces inside the rib – there is the main shaft of the point, still kind of pointy but not super pointy, as you point out, and then there is a splinter off the tip which is offset, and clearly visible in the CT scan, especially the videos, but also the still 3D image above (as noted in that caption). Imagining that piece glued back onto the tip helps a lot in envisioning the original point profile – it’s different than the CT slice at the very top.

    I think – and this is a bit of an inference – that the “eruptive bone” is the “sign of healing” noted by the veterinarian in the 1979 CJA article. The new article dismisses that but with no reason given that I saw. That is another weakness of the current paper, which is also much too short, even considering the Supplementary online material. I really hope they are doing an “Ayer’s Pond” job on this, bringing together all the bone taphonomy with excellent illustrations, and a clear discussion of the pathology. They’ve left themselves open to skepticism I’m afraid – the prestige of the journal is getting in the way of the length of exposition that’s needed to really “make their point clear”.


  28. A professional black and white pen illustration of what that point looks like would be very helpful. I agree with Morley, the graphics aren’t great but I sure want to believe this thing is an artifact.


  29. Glad to see you all involved with my father’s discovery. Yes, I’m Emanuel (Manny’s) daughter and it’s been great reading your comments. I have a couple of my own…I’ve written a children’s picture (readable by children of all ages!) about the early discovery days. My author website (where my book can be purchased) and the mastodon site (with additional info) will give a personal view of Manny. My Dad always wanted me to write this story…and finally did! Please have a look-see and revel in the news from Dr. Waters and Dr. Gustafson. Their amazing conclusion to the mystery of the Manis Mastodon happened before I went to press! Whew!


    Keep up the good dialogue here!
    ***Shirley Manis


  30. Until I happened upon FB Event page regarding the Manis Mastodon site I had know idea it existed, or that it was so hotly debated. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading your article and learning about this topic and reading all of the comments (which provided even further opportunities for learning). Thank you.


  31. for more Pre-Clovis news, there are now 13,300-13,700 yr old (cal BP) cutmarks on a giant Ground Sloth in Ohio published in World Archaeology and with a Canadian cutmark specialist (Haskel Greenfield) as an author!


  32. Pingback: pre-clovis hunting tool

  33. I’ve never heard of this and I don’t understand the argument I guess. Is it unfathomable to some that humans could hunt a mastodon? I would think where there’s a will there’s a way and hunger can be a pretty strong will. It certainly looks like an arrowhead to my unknowable self. Why the beef (err mastodon) with it in the archaeological societies?


    • I’m sure someone more archaeologically trained than me will agree that there is nothing spectacular about humans searching for meat. What’s spectacular is that in 1977 when my father discovered this mastodon…it was the FIRST evidence that man hunted mastodon on the North American continent. (The Manis Site remains the oldest archaeological site on the Olympic peninsula. in WA state.) Technology caught up and in Oct. 2011…a CT scan and DNA tests proved that man had fashioned a spear point, which was embedded in the famous rib bone found at the Manis site, from the bone of a “different” mastodon. Then the site was also dated at 13,800 years…800 years older than the Clovis people, who were believed to be the oldest inhabitants of North America. No more. All this news was the SECOND time the Manis site rocked the world of archaeology. That’s what this discovery is more than just about meat!

      See my book… or my author website at

      Happy reading!


  34. News from nature about the decline of clovis firsters a “slow avalanche of findings has all but buried the Clovis [first] model — the problem now is what to replace it with”


  35. Pingback: En busca del primer indígena americano : El Rastreador de Noticias

  36. gosh gee, a new ‘Science’ story! on western stemmed tradition predating and paralleling clovis


  37. Further to the earlier comments from Morley and others regarding recent bone breaks on archaeological bone that look like green-bone fractures, this article looks like it might be pertinent. It may not relate to the circumstances of the Manis bone point, but certainly seems relevant to Morley’s dentalia driven into a bone by a machine bucket. I can only see the abstract so not totally sure how it fits:


  38. Good to see the Manis collection is being consolidated and put under long-term curation per this recent news article

    “Clare Manis Hatler recently donated a collection of artifacts and decades of research related to remains of the mastodon to the Washington State Historical Society, the Tacoma-based organization announced last week.

    Hatler, whose late husband Emanuel “Manny” Manis discovered mastodon tusks while digging a pond on their Sequim farm, said she’s pleased that the items — more than 50 cartons of bones, ivory, teeth, soil samples, stone tools, photographs, field notes and more — are now safe and available for scientific research. “



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