In 1915, construction workers made a startling discovery in Vero Beach, Florida. Did ancient Americans live alongside mammoths? Did they hunt these and other giant extinct creatures from the Pleistocene epoch?
When did Ancient Americans reach the Americas?
According to the International Union of Geological Sciences, the Pleistocene epoch started 2,588,000 years ago and ended 11,700 years ago. Many animals of that age, such as mammoths, mastodons, and giant ground sloths, were larger than their modern relatives.
In 1913, workers unearthed some vertebrate fossils in Vero Beach while building a drainage canal. Recognizing them as from the Pleistocene epoch, Dr. E.H. Sellards asked the workers to keep a lookout for more remains. In 1915, the workers struck a veritable gold mine. They found at least five separate skeletons as well as numerous stone tools.
A major controversy soon erupted. The discoveries seemed to indicate that modern man had inhabited the Americas prior to 10,000 BC, which conflicted with prevailing opinion. Roughly half the scientists who examined the remains took this stance. The other half thought the skeletons came from a later era and were merely buried in the same layer of soil as the Pleistocene animals. Since dating techniques didn’t exist at the time, it was impossible to prove one way or the other. Eventually, the skeptics won the debate.
Did Ancient Americans Hunt Mammoths?
In 2009, archaeologists discovered a strange carving on a piece of bone in Vero Beach. The bone appeared to depict a mammoth or a mastodon. While the bone could not be dated, the accuracy of the drawing along with the mineralization of the bone itself led scholars to rethink the possibility of people living in the Americas during the Pleistocene epoch.
“There was considerable skepticism expressed about the authenticity of the incising on the bone until it was examined exhaustively by archaeologists, paleontologists, forensic anthropologists, materials science engineers and artists.” ~ Barbara Purdy, University of Florida
Now, a team of researchers led by Bruce MacFadden and Barbara Purdy have reexamined some of the old Vero Beach bones. Using rare earth element analysis, they’ve gathered significant evidence that people co-existed with large extinct animals such as mammoths in the Americas about 13,000 years ago.
“The uptake of rare earth elements is time-dependent, so an old fossil is going to have very different concentrations of rare earth elements than bones from a more recent human burial. We found the human remains have statistically the same concentrations of rare earth elements as the fossils.” ~ Bruce MacFadden, Florida Museum Vertebrate Paleontology Curator
It should be noted this isn’t a sure thing. Rare earth element analysis is less precise than radiocarbon dating. Still, the evidence is hard to ignore. In all likelihood, people roamed the Americas as early as 13,000 years ago, side by side with mammoths and other animals that today only live in our imagination.