Elephant Ancestor's Bones Alter Our Continent's History

Gomphotheres appear to have roamed North America as recently as 13,400 years ago

By Elizabeth Armstrong Moore,  Newser Staff

Posted Jul 15, 2014 4:18 AM CDT | Updated Jul 15, 2014 8:00 AM CDT

(Newser) – North America's prehistoric Clovis people were known hunters of large mammoths and mastodons. But another elephant ancestor, the smaller gomphothere, may also have fallen prey to the ambitious hunter-gatherers. An archaeological dig begun in 2007 in northwestern Mexico now carbon dates that site—which has given up Clovis spear tips, flint flakes, and bones from two juvenile gomphotheres—to 13,390 years ago, per the archaeologists' paper on their findings. That makes the remote "El Fin del Mundo" in Sonora one of two oldest-known Clovis sites in North America (the other is in northern Texas), reports University of Arizona News.

Until now, there was no evidence that gomphotheres roamed North America recently enough to interact with humans. The findings have scientists not only rethinking how long ago gomphotheres lived, reports io9, but when and where the Clovis people lived and whether they had an appetite for gomphotheres, which were the size of today's elephants. Seven clear quartz Clovis points were unearthed at the site, and four of those were actually in place among the bones; one had bone and teeth fragments around it. The find "adds another item to the Clovis menu," says an archaeologist on the dig. (In other archaeological news, read about why the skulls of children encircled ancient villages.)

Illustration of a gomphothere skeleton.
Illustration of a gomphothere skeleton.   (Wikimedia Commons)
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