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Ancient bones changing view of mammoth-human interaction

University of Michigan professor Dan Fisher, top left, leads a team of Michigan students and volunteers as they excavate woolly mammoth bones found on a farm near Chelsea, Mich., Thursday. Credit: Melanie Maxwell/The Ann Arbor News

Mammoth bones discovered in a Michigan field last year could change the way archaeologists think about how humans in the area interacted with the giant beasts.

The remains are to be put on display at the university’s Museum of Natural History starting this Saturday. This is exciting because the animal the bones come from — known as the Bristle mammoth after the family who owns the farm where it was found — is a very unusual specimen.

When researchers from the university first analyzed the remains, they found that the mammoth lived somewhere between 10,000 and 15,000 years ago, meaning it existed alongside humans. This was further confirmed by the way the bones were positioned, which suggested that humans killed the beast before butchering it and leaving some of its meat in a pond for storage.

Further analysis of both the remains and the site at which they were found could help paleontologists gain a better understanding of Michigan’s prehistory. This is because the mammoth’s timeline suggests that humans interacted with the creatures in a predator-prey relationship nearly 1,000 years earlier than scientists previously thought.

“What’s so interesting about the Bristle site is that there’s a mammoth with evidence of human association at a very early date—well before Clovis times,” said dig leader Daniel Fisher, a paleontologist at the University of Michigan, in a statement.

However, while the bones have been given a timeline, the first radiocarbon date is preliminary. This means the years cannot be fully confirmed until further research is conducted. The team hopes that further study of the site — including radiocarbon dating different sediment layers — will give them more concrete evidence of when the beast died, The Christian Science Monitor reports.

During the dig, the excavation team found between 30 to 40 percent of the entire mammoth, including 50 to 60 intact bones. The fossils were promptly donated to the University of Michigan by the Bristle family, and a crowdfunding campaign raised almost $50,000 to help pay for both the exhibit and research of the exciting discovery.

The team hopes to conduct further digs in the area to see what else is at the site, but in the meantime, the new exhibit will be unveiled this week. It will be an area where visitors will be able to see videos of the excavation, plaster casts of one of the mammoth tusks, and the real skull uncovered during the dig.

“This exhibit is really about viewing research as an unfolding process of discovery,” said Amy Harris, director of University of Michigan’s Museum of Natural History. “We don’t find all the answers right away. It takes time to pursue lines of investigation.”

Joseph Scalise

Joseph Scalise

Staff Writer
Joseph Scalise is an experienced writer who has worked for many different online websites across many different mediums. While his background is mainly rooted in sports writing, he has also written and edited guides, ebooks, short stories and screenplays. In addition, he performs and writes poetry, and has won numerous contests. Joseph is a dedicated writer, sports lover and avid reader who covers all different topics, ranging from space exploration to his personal favorite science, microbiology.
About Joseph Scalise (1674 Articles)
Joseph Scalise is an experienced writer who has worked for many different online websites across many different mediums. While his background is mainly rooted in sports writing, he has also written and edited guides, ebooks, short stories and screenplays. In addition, he performs and writes poetry, and has won numerous contests. Joseph is a dedicated writer, sports lover and avid reader who covers all different topics, ranging from space exploration to his personal favorite science, microbiology.