Archaeologists have discovered the pre-historic remains of an elephant-like animal suggesting that the creature, which was believed to have disappeared from North America before the arrival of humans there, actually roamed the region for much longer than previously thought.
The researchers discovered artifacts of the ancient Clovis culture -- the earliest widespread group of hunter-gatherers to inhabit North America -- along with the bones of two gomphotheres, early ancestors of the modern elephant, at an archaeological site in northwestern Sonora in Mexico. The discovery suggests that the Clovis people, who were known as hunters of mammoths and mastodons, might have dined on gomphotheres too, the researchers said in a study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“This is the first archaeological gomphothere found in North America, and it's the only one known,” Vance Holliday, a professor of anthropology at the University of Arizona in Tucson, and the study’s co-author, said in a statement, adding that this is the first time a connection between humans and gomphotheres has been made in North America.
Gomphotheres, who were smaller than mammoths and were about the same size as modern elephants, were thought to have disappeared from the continent's fossil record long before humans arrived in North America nearly 13,000 to 13,500 years ago, during the late Ice Age.
However, the bones that Holliday and his team of researchers have uncovered date back 13,400 years, which makes them the last known gomphotheres in North America. The position and proximity of Clovis weapon fragments relative to the gomphothere bones at the site indicate that early native humans in that region killed the two animals, the researchers said.
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The Clovis artifacts, excavated along with the gomphotheres’ bones, included signature Clovis projectile points, or spear tips, as well as cutting tools and flint flakes. The Clovis culture is known for its distinctive stone tools, first discovered by archaeologists near Clovis, New Mexico, in the 1930s.
“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.