Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Bones of elephant ancestor unearthed: Meet the gomphothere

Date:
July 14, 2014
Source:
University of Arizona
Summary:
An ancient ancestor of the elephant, once believed to have disappeared from North America before humans ever arrived there, might actually have roamed the continent longer than previously thought. Archaeologists have uncovered the first evidence that gomphotheres were once hunted in North America.

Gomphothere mandible uncovered at El Fin del Mundo. Archaeologists working in northwestern Mexico were not sure what kind of animal they had unearthed until they found this telltale jawbone, which belonged to a gomphothere.
Credit: Joaquin Arroyo-Cabrales

An animal once believed to have disappeared from North America before humans ever arrived there might actually have roamed the continent longer than previously thought -- and it was likely on the list of prey for some of continent's earliest humans, researchers from the University of Arizona and elsewhere have found.

Archaeologists have discovered artifacts of the prehistoric Clovis culture mingled with the bones of two gomphotheres, ancient ancestors of the elephant, at an archaeological site in northwestern Mexico.

The discovery suggests that the Clovis -- the earliest widespread group of hunter-gatherers to inhabit North America -- likely hunted and ate gomphotheres. The members of the Clovis culture were already well-known as hunters of the gomphotheres' cousins, mammoths and mastodons.

Although humans were known to have hunted gomphotheres in Central America and South America, this is the first time a human-gomphothere connection has been made in North America, says archaeologist Vance Holliday, who co-authored a new paper on the findings, published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"This is the first archaeological gomphothere found in North America, and it's the only one known," said Holliday, a professor of anthropology and geology at the UA.

Holliday and colleagues from the U.S. and Mexico began excavating the skeletal remains of two juvenile gomphotheres in 2007 after ranchers alerted them that the bones had been found in northwestern Sonora, Mexico.

They didn't know at first what kind of animal they were dealing with.

"At first, just based on the size of the bone, we thought maybe it was a bison, because the extinct bison were a little bigger than our modern bison," Holliday said.

Then, in 2008, they discovered a jawbone with teeth, buried upside down in the dirt.

"We finally found the mandible, and that's what told the tale," Holliday said.

Gomphotheres were smaller than mammoths -- about the same size as modern elephants. They once were widespread in North America, but until now they seemed to have disappeared from the continent's fossil record long before humans arrived in North America, which happened some 13,000 to 13,500 years ago, during the late Ice Age.

However, the bones that Holliday and his colleagues uncovered date back 13,400 years, making them the last known gomphotheres in North America.

The gomphothere remains weren't all Holliday and his colleagues unearthed at the site, which they dubbed El Fin del Mundo -- Spanish for The End of the World -- because of its remote location.

As their excavation of the bones progressed, they also uncovered numerous Clovis artifacts, including signature Clovis projectile points, or spear tips, as well as cutting tools and flint flakes from stone tool-making. The Clovis culture is so named for its distinctive stone tools, first discovered by archaeologists near Clovis, New Mexico, in the 1930s.

Radiocarbon dating, done at the UA, puts the El Fin del Mundo site at about 13,400 years old, making it one of the two oldest known Clovis sites in North America; the other is the Aubrey Clovis site in north Texas.

The position and proximity of Clovis weapon fragments relative to the gomphothere bones at the site suggest that humans did in fact kill the two animals there. Of the seven Clovis points found at the site, four were in place among the bones, including one with bone and teeth fragments above and below. The other three points had clearly eroded away from the bone bed and were found scattered nearby.

"This is the first Clovis gomphothere, it's the first archaeological gomphothere found in North America, it's the first evidence that people were hunting gomphotheres in North America, and it adds another item to the Clovis menu," Holliday said.

The dig at El Fin del Mundo, a joint effort between the U.S. and Mexico, was funded by the UA School of Anthropology's Argonaut Archaeological Research Fund, the National Geographic Society, the Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia and The Center for Desert Archaeology in Tucson.

In addition to Holliday, authors of the PNAS paper include: lead author Guadalupe Sanchez, who has a doctorate in anthropology from the UA; UA alumni Edmund P. Gaines and Susan M. Mentzer; UA doctoral candidates Natalia Martínez-Tagüeña and Andrew Kowler; UA master's student Ismael Sanchez-Morales; UA scientists Todd Lange and Gregory Hodgins; and Joaquin Arroyo-Cabrales at the Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Arizona. The original article was written by Alexis Blue. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University of Arizona. "Bones of elephant ancestor unearthed: Meet the gomphothere." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 14 July 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/07/140714152431.htm>.
University of Arizona. (2014, July 14). Bones of elephant ancestor unearthed: Meet the gomphothere. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 1, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/07/140714152431.htm
University of Arizona. "Bones of elephant ancestor unearthed: Meet the gomphothere." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/07/140714152431.htm (accessed October 1, 2014).

Share This



More Fossils & Ruins News

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Raw: Japan Celebrates 'bullet Train' Anniversary

Raw: Japan Celebrates 'bullet Train' Anniversary

AP (Oct. 1, 2014) — A ceremony marking 50 years since Japan launched its Shinkansen bullet train was held on Wednesday in Tokyo. The latest model can travel from Tokyo to Osaka, a distance of 319 miles, in two hours and 25 minutes. (Oct. 1) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Battle of New Orleans Cannon Gets New Carriage

Battle of New Orleans Cannon Gets New Carriage

AP (Sep. 30, 2014) — A Spanish cannon used in the Battle of New Orleans and weighing nearly 3 tons was lowered Tuesday by pulleys, chains and muscle onto a new gun carriage like one that might have held it once aboard a navy ship. (Sept. 30) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
2,000 Year Old Pre-Inca Cloak on Display in Lima

2,000 Year Old Pre-Inca Cloak on Display in Lima

AFP (Sep. 27, 2014) — A 2,000 year-old Pre-Inca cloak that is believed to represent an agricultural calendar of the Paracas culture is on display in Lima. Duration: 00:39 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Original Mozart Sonata Manuscript Found in Budapest

Original Mozart Sonata Manuscript Found in Budapest

AFP (Sep. 26, 2014) — Considered lost for over two centuries, the original manuscript of one of the most famous works of Mozart's Sonata in A major has been uncovered in a library in Budapest. Duration: 01:04 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories

 

Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins