Mastodon bone discovery could rewrite the history of mankind

Apr 30, 2017, 01:15
Mastodon bone discovery could rewrite the history of mankind

High-tech dating of mastodon remains found in southern California has shattered the timeline of human migration to America, pushing the presence of hominins back to 130,000 years ago rather than just 15,000 years, researchers said Wednesday.

Since its initial discovery in 1992, this site has been the subject of research by top scientists to date the fossils accurately and evaluate microscopic damage on bones and rocks that researchers now consider indicative of human activity.

In 2014, U.S. Geological Survey geologist Dr. James Paces used state-of-the-art radiometric dating methods to determine that the mastodon bones were 130,700 years old, with a conservative error of plus or minus 9,400 years. Judy Gradwohl, president and chief executive officer of the San Diego Natural History Museum.

With an age that old, the bone-smashers were not necessarily members of our own species.

Mastodon skeleton schematic showing which bones and teeth of the animal were found at the site. It's also possible that they took to the sea in boats. As reported at the San Diego Union Tribune, the rocks appeared to be used as hammers and anvils.

The evidence comes from an archeological site in San Diego County, Calif.

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"Extraordinary claims need extraordinary evidence - and the mastodon site preserves such evidence", Thomas Demere, a paleontologist and curator of the San Diego Natural History Museum told news conference. Each anvil stone was surrounded by mastodon-bone fragments and flakes of stone, as if someone had been crushing bone on the anvil.

The study, to be published this week in the science journal Nature, said the numerous limb bones fragments of a young male mastodon found at the site show spiral fractures, indicating they were broken while fresh.

"We have conducted two experiments breaking elephant bones with large rock hammers and anvils", Dr. Holen told the United Kingdom media outlet. But "broken bones and stones alone do not make a credible archaeological site".

The stones measured about 8 inches (20 centimeters) to 12 inches (30 centimeters) long and weighed up to 32 pounds (14.5 kilograms). The users evidently found them and brought them to the site. There were also stone cobbles found in the site, which had signs of impact marks.

The fate of the visitors is not clear. It would open endless new questions about who these people were, how they got to California, and if they died out or quietly persisted through the millennia.

Experts not connected with the study provided a range of reactions.

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"We often hear statements in the media that a new study changes everything we knew", says Chris Stringer at the Natural History Museum in London. What's more, the ancestor of humans, Neanderthals, and Denisovans arose only 700,000 years ago.

But "many of us will want to see supporting evidence of this ancient occupation from other sites, before we abandon the conventional model of a first arrival by modern humans within the last 15,000 years", he wrote in an email. "Something's wrong, '" says John McNabb, and archeologist with the University of Southampton who was not involved with the research, in a video produced by Nature.

But some were skeptical that the rocks were really used as tools.

Richard Potts of the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History, said he doesn't reject the paper's claims outright, but he finds the evidence "not yet solid". "When we eliminate all of the other natural processes and reproduce the results experimentally, we have very strong evidence".

The lead author, Holen, told reporters Tuesday that he and co-authors were ready for such criticism. In which case, how good could the marrow in the bones still be? The positions of the femur heads, one up and one down, broken in the same manner next to each other is unusual.

Some of the unbroken mastodon ribs and vertebrae, including one vertebra with a large well preserved neural spine.

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