The secret is out: Man and gomphotheres once coexisted in Sonora.
Tools and spear tips found with fossil bones at a remote Sonoran site suggest that Clovis-era hunters butchered two juvenile specimens of the elephantlike megafauna about 13,000 years ago.
It's the first discovery of such recent evidence of gomphotheres in North America, said Vance Holliday, a University of Arizona anthropologist.
It's also the first time gomphothere fossils were found together with implements made by Clovis people, the oldest known inhabitants of North America, Holliday said.
The discovery, on a remote ranch in the Rio Sonora watershed, was actually made in 2007 but was kept quiet to avoid alerting fossil hunters to it. Archaeologists from Mexico and the United States named the site "El Fin del Mundo," or "The End of the World."
They continue to work the site in the Mexican state that borders Arizona but presented some preliminary findings last month at a Geological Society of America meeting in Portland, Ore.
Holliday said Guadalupe Sanchez of Mexico's national institute of anthropology was originally taken to the site by a rancher who had discovered large bones in an arroyo.
Holliday said he was unsure if Clovis people were hunting gomphotheres or scavenging them. In either case, Holliday said, "this would be the first documentation that there was some sort of human interaction with gomphotheres in North America."
Holliday said the international team of archaeologists from the UA and the Instituto Nacional de Antropologia e Historia in Mexico City expect to complete excavation of the site this winter.
Archaeologists have yet to find human fossil evidence of the culture they call Clovis, named for Clovis, N.M., where scientists uncovered the first distinctive spear tips from a period about 13,000 years ago.
The San Pedro Valley has since proved to be a fertile area for Clovis investigation. At the most famous site, Murray Springs near Sierra Vista, scientists uncovered spear tips among the bones of mammoths, leading them to postulate that the Clovis people hunted the megafauna that once populated a wetter, milder Southwest in the Ice Age -- possibly hunting the mammoths to extinction.
The Murray Springs site also contained bones of several other North American megafauna, as well as tools and a hearth.
Now, scientists might be able to add the elephantlike gomphotheres to the list of Clovis prey.
Gomphotheres were thought to have vanished from North America 100,000 years ago, said David Lambert, a biologist at the Louisiana School of Science, Mathematics and the Arts. "This is a Lazarus effect," he said. "Something disappears and then, out of the blue, pops up again."
Lambert, who has unearthed three gomphotheres in Florida -- all more than 120,000 years old -- said "this discovery is certainly a surprise."
There are a variety of gomphotheres -- some with crocodile-like jaws and four tusks. The one that populated North America is called Cuvieronius and is about the size of an Asian elephant and elephantlike in appearance, Lambert said.
Holliday is executive director of the Argonaut Archaeological Research Fund, which searches for evidence of the earliest paleo-Indian habitation of the Southwest.
Holliday said archaeologists expect the Rio Sonora area, the south drainage of the watershed that feeds the San Pedro, to yield more evidence of Clovis habitation.
The Fin del Mundo site, which he says is more than 12,000 years old, also includes an extensive Clovis encampment, he said.
"It was a pristine site; nobody had ever been there to collect, probably just due to the remoteness of it. It was astonishing the number of artifacts on the surface," Holliday said.
Contact reporter Tom Beal at 573--44158 or firstname.lastname@example.org
"Prehistoric man, giant animal coexisted." America's Intelligence Wire 16 Nov. 2009. Popular Magazines. Web. 3 Dec. 2009.
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