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First Americans

Schaefer and Hebior Kill Sites

By NIKHIL SWAMINATHAN

Monday, August 11, 2014

Wisconsin-Schaefer-Mammoth-Site

In 1964, while draining a marshy field on the Schaefer Farm, an hour north of Chicago, an earthmover jolted to a halt when it struck a buried mammoth femur, throwing its operator from his seat. The mammoth remains would end up in the nearby Kenosha Public Museum. More than 20 years later, an amateur archaeologist noticed cut marks on another set of mammoth bones in the museum’s collection, indicating they had been butchered. That prompted archaeologist Dan Joyce, the museum’s director, to reinvestigate the Schaefer site.

 

Beginning his excavations in 1992, he found, under two-and-a-half feet of ancient soils, roughly 80 percent of a completely butchered mammoth. Because the animal had been inundated by the waters of a long-dried-up lake shortly after it was butchered, its bones were well preserved. Many bore V-shaped cut marks typical of what would be made by humans using prehistoric tools. Joyce also found fragments of two stone blades with the remains. Preliminary dating says the bones are roughly 13,000 years old. “We had a Clovis date, so we thought we had a Clovis site,” Joyce says. But when the bones were redated the next year using a more sophisticated technique that purified the collagen protein in them, that assessment went out the window. The new dates came back clustered around 14,500 years ago.

 

If the analysis wasn’t enough to convince Joyce, what was found three-quarters of a mile away at the Hebior Farm confirmed it. There, in 1994, a team led by David Overstreet, an archaeologist at Marquette University in Milwaukee, found 90 percent of a similarly butchered mammoth, along with a more complete set of butchering tools. The bones from Hebior would be dated to 150 to 200 years before the Schaefer bones.

 

“Both Schaefer and Hebior are pre-Clovis, but they’re a Clovis subsistence style, so they’re almost bridging the gap,” says Joyce, referring to the Clovis people’s reputation as hunters of mammoths, bison, and other big game. “Are they more properly called ‘proto-Clovis,’ something that develops into Clovis?”

Manis Mastodon Kill Site

By NIKHIL SWAMINATHAN

Monday, August 11, 2014

Manis-Mastadon-Site-BoneThe mastodon kill site on Emanuel Manis’ property was discovered when he was digging through six feet of peat to make a small pond. Manis found two fossilized tusks that he thought had belonged to an elephant. When Washington State University archaeologist Carl Gustafson excavated the pond site in 1977, he quickly recovered one of the animal’s ribs with a bone projectile point in it. It was later determined from analysis of the animal’s tooth that the bones belonged to a mastodon.

 

Organic material found near the remains was dated to roughly 14,000 years ago. Controversy ensued, with members of the archaeological community refuting the dating because it hadn’t been done on the actual bones. In addition, multiple theories emerged as to how the bone fragment had come to be embedded in the mastodon rib, including an antelope attack.

 

Enter Texas A&M’s Mike Waters, who, in 2011, announced that he’d dated purified collagen in the bone, and that it was 13,800 years old. CT scans and 3-D projections of the rib with the projectile in it show that the bone fragment is, in fact, a spear point. For Waters, Manis wasn’t an isolated exercise in taking a second look at forgotten sites. As a case in point, he and his former graduate student, Jesse Halligan, now at the University of Wisconsin-Lacrosse, have recently re-excavated Page-Ladson, a sinkhole on the Florida panhandle that thousands of years ago would have been above sea level. There, in the 1980s and 1990s, archaeologists discovered that ancient people likely killed a mastadon in the sinkhole. They found several flakes from stone tools and a mastodon tusk with cut marks on it. Dating nearby seeds returned ages of about 14,400 years old. But, as with the Manis find, colleagues turned a blind eye to the results. Last summer, however, Halligan found a large fragment of a biface in the same layer as the previous finds. Radiocarbon dates on twigs and seeds found around it could confirm the earlier work at the site. “My philosophy is you can reinvestigate these sites that have promise and see if they pan out,” Waters says. “Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.”

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