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Humans present in North America 37,000 years ago based on new mammoth evidence

Professor Timothy Rowe, a palaeontologist and his team at the University of Texas’s Jackson School of Geosciences, has suggested that humans were present in New Mexico, North America 37,000 years ago, which is far earlier than previously thought. He has made this assessment on the basis of the method of butchering a mammoth using stone (but not stone tools) and bone technology together with controlled use of fire as revealed by that branch of palaeontology called taphonomy, which is the process of fossilisation.

Photographs of modified bones of adult Hartley mammoth.

Photographs of modified bones of adult Hartley mammoth. (A) Anterior rib with depressed blunt force impact wound (TMM 47004-1.1). (B) Mid-thoracic rib showing large-gauge puncture wound to capitulum (TMM 47004-1.36). (C) Mid-thoracic rib with parallel chop marks (TMM 47004-1.37). (D,E) Rib butterfly fragments (TMM 47004-1.152 and 47004-1.201). (F) Butterfly fragment derived from ulna or tibia (TMM 47004-1.40). (G) Rib butterfly fragment (TMM 47004-1.8). (H) Dentary bone flake with two secondary flake scars (TMM 47004-1.215). (I) Distal rib in two views showing puncture in-filled with sediment (TMM 47004-1.163) (Supplementary Video 9). My thanks to Prof Rowe and his team for publishing the full report.

They discovered the remains of a mother mammoth and her calf and they feel sure that it was killed and butchered by human hand rather than being broken down by nature over the eons.

The bones were unearthed on Prof Rowe’s property as I understand it. They indicated that they had been shaped into disposable blades to butcher the carcass. The animal fat was rendered in a controlled fire.

Previous archaeological evidence had placed humans in New Mexico tens of thousands of years later. Prof Timothy Rowe said that the site of the excavation was not “charismatic” with a beautiful skeleton because they were all busted up but he believes that the story behind the find is charismatic.

A tusk was spotted on a part of his property nine years ago. He found the crushed mammoth skull and other bones which appeared to have been deliberately broken. He decided it was a butchering site. But he admits that it can be difficult to “determine what was shaped by nature versus human hands”.

There is an ongoing debate about when humans first occupied North America and it has been generally accepted that the Clovis culture dating from 16,000 years ago were the earliest humans on that continent. They left behind elaborate stone tools.

The new discovery indicated that stone tools were not used but nonetheless there was controlled butchering. Rowe stated that CT x-ray scans revealed “bone flakes with microscopic fracture networks akin to those in freshly knapped cow bones and well-placed puncture wounds that would have helped in draining grease from ribs and vertebral bones”.

He said that the butchering patterns were “quite characteristic”. And when the sediment around the bones was analysed, they decided that the fire particles indicated a controlled human made fire and not a wildfire. And there was evidence of pulverised bone and the burned remains of small animals.

The research is published in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution. It is published in full which is very nice of them. You can therefore read the entire research paper rather than simply the abstract. Please click here to read it.

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