The Bones of the Past

imagesI’ll get back to the topic of movies very soon, but I wanted to interject on a slightly different topic that I encountered just this week.  Not only does this topic have nothing to do with movies, the basis for this topic occured at least 15 or 20 thousand years before the first movie was even a gleam in the first director’s eye!


I’m talking about mammoths.  Big ones.

Earlier this week I had the opportunity to attend a talk by Dr. Steven Holen who is the former curator of archeology at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science and now has started his own small nonprofit called The Center for American Paleolithic Research.  Much of his research centers around the finding of mammoths in and around the Great Plains, including places in Colorado, Nebraska, the Dakotas, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.  Although mammoths lived all over North America in the late pleistocene, the Great Plains is apparently the best place to look for bones because of the alkline nature of the soils here.  Further to the east, due mostly to the presence of trees and therefore of decaying leaves, the soils are more acidic and break down the calcium carbonate material of bone much more quickly.  Alkaline soils will preserve the bones nicely.

One of the most fascinating things about Dr. Holen’s research is that it concentrates on finding not only the bones of mammoths, but also on finding evidence of humans.  Humans that were either involved in the demise of the mammoth directly, or at least were there and likely making tools from the bones.  Dr. Holen consistently found bone shards at the sites that were probably used as butchering and meat cutting tools.  He was careful to point out that the shards could not have been produced by natural processes, but had to have been struck with a large rock or perhaps another large bone.  He even reproduced these shards using a modern elephant bone and striking them with heavy rocks.

That alone would be fascinating enough, but the real kicker is that after carbon dating most of the sites, it was found that they were much older than previously believed possible, and so the real focus of his work is to convince the archeology community that humans were in North America thousands of years before the famed Clovis Culture – perhaps as much as 30 thousand years ago!

The preservation of these sites is very important, and will allow for further investigation and study.  What a great bonus it would be if the Great Plains Trail can pass near one of these sites and add further interest to the already fascinating (and very old) story of the Great Plains!



About greatplainstrail

Building the Great Plains Trail.
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