Clearing up a Mastodon mystery?

An impending report on Sequim's Manis Mastodon site may break 14,000-year-old news.

An impending report on Sequim's Manis Mastodon site may break 14,000-year-old news.

A few years ago I was talking with an employee from the Washington State Department of Natural Resources who mentioned a project near Sequim. Department workers were making a list of local, tribal cultural resources, and the employee asked the significance of a nearby hill. "That," came the reply, "was where our ancestors watched for the elephants."

Word is that potentially big news is about to break this week about the region's "elephants" and prehistoric hunters. An impending report on the Manis Mastodon site near Sequim, due this week in the journal Science, is reported to confirm that the site is roughly 14,000 years old and that there are clear signs that prehistoric hunters were involved. One of the discoveries years ago was a mastodon rib with a bone fragment in it that was theorized to be an embedded spear or arrow tip. Further testing and analysis has been needed (CAT scan, DNA).

Quentin Mackie, who has the Northwest Coast Archaeology blog, has a rundown on the "intriguing rumours" about Manis and the potential significance of the study. If the site is confirmed at around 14,000 years old and pre-Clovis, Mackie writes that "this find would be of profound importance to our archaeological understanding of the first arrival of people into the Americas."

The peopling of the Americas is a subject that is undergoing much revision, upsetting theories that have claimed that Clovis-point technologies were the earliest on the continent. (The new Scientific American looks into the subject here.) It would also provide more insight into the period of glacial transition (changing sea levels, climate, flora and fauna). Mackie believes that if the Manis find is confirmed, it could also be the impetus for a more comprehensive search for similar sites in the region. He points out that a nearly 14,000 year-old site of butchered giant bison was found on Orcas Island (Ayer Pond) in 2003. The Salish Sea region appears to be rich with potential to shed light on the earliest human inhabitants of the region.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Knute Berger

Knute Berger

Knute “Mossback” Berger is Crosscut's Editor-at-Large.