Mammoth Art

While cleaning an old bone he found, an avocational fossil hunter made an incredible discovery:

Researchers from the Smithsonian Institution and the University of Florida have announced the discovery of a bone fragment, approximately 13,000 years old, in Florida with an incised image of a mammoth or mastodon. This engraving is the oldest and only known example of Ice Age art to depict a proboscidean (the order of animals with trunks) in the Americas. The team’s research is published online in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

The scientists are likely too cautious to make a definitive call without running DNA tests on it, but the carving is clearly that of a mammoth, not a mastodon, and a Columbian at that. Both animals had backs that sloped from shoulders to hips, but those of mammoths were much steeper; and unlike mastodons, mammoths had discernible necks, which you can also see in the image. Both Columbian mammoths and mastodons roamed ancient Florida.

Art is communication — and that long-gone artist has said “I saw this” across thirteen millennia or more. Amazing.

Photo credit Chip Clark at the Smithsonian Institution.

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