Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Manis Site Produces New Findings

In the late 1970s, an adult male mastodon, a large tusked and extinct mammal, was excavated from a pond at a two acre archaeological dig called the ‘Manis site’ near Sequim, Washington. The distribution of the bones and the discovery that some of the bones were broken suggested that the elephant had been killed and butchered by human hunters. However, no stone tools or weapons were found at the site. The key artifact that was found was what appeared to be a bone point sticking out of one of the ribs, but the artifact and the age of the site were disputed because the technology available today to date and identify the bone did not yet exist.

Today with high-resolution CT scanning and three-dimensional modeling, it was confirmed that the embedded bone was a spear point, and DNA and bone protein analysis indicated the bone point was made of mastodon bone. Michael Waters, director of the Center for the Study of the First Americans in the Department of Anthropology at Texas A&M, and colleagues from Colorado, Washington and Denmark believe the find at the Manis site demonstrates that humans were in the area 13,800 years ago ─ or 800 years earlier than was originally believed. Their work is published in the current issue of Science magazine.

Waters, the author of Clovis Lithic Technology (Texas A&M University Press, 2011), notes “there are at least two other pre-Clovis kill sites where hunters killed mammoths.” ‘Clovis’ is the name given to the distinctive tools made by people starting around 13,000 years ago. The Clovis people invented the ‘Clovis point’, a spear-shaped weapon made of stone that is found in Texas and across the United States and northern Mexico. These weapons were used to hunt animals, including mammoths and mastodons, from 13,000 to 12,700 years ago.

Waters says “the evidence from the Manis site is helping to reshape our understanding of the earliest inhabitants of the Americas, the last continent to be occupied by modern humans.”