BOSTON (CBS) - An accidental discovery is changing the timeline on woolly mammoth, while helping to answer the question -- did woolly mammoths and humans walk around New England together?
Nathaniel Kitchel is a post doctoral fellow in Dartmouth College's anthropology department. He was visiting the Hood Museum of Art on campus to examine some Native American artifacts that were in storage.
It was a chance discovery.
"I bent down and looked at the tag and Mt Holly Mammoth… Mt. Holly Vermont," Kitchel says, referring the specimen he saw. "On the same shelf, in the same New England section, I noticed a fairly large bone, a fossil bone, especially one that old, has a distinctive look to it."
The bone was quickly identified as a rib bone, originally discovered in the 1840s, during the building of a railroad through Mt. Holly.
Kitchel says the animal probably fell into a pond that later became a bog. In the absence of any oxygen, the animal bones were preserved in the wet environment before they were discovered in the 1840s.
After the bone was properly identified as a mammoth bone, it was sent away to Georgia for radiocarbon dating. The test results returned a date of around 12,800 years ago.
"Why that is particularly interesting is because some of the first evidence we have of the very first native populations to move into northern New England is also around 12,800 years ago," Kitchel said.
Fossils of any kind, especially mastodons, are rare in New England because of the acidic soil. Bones tend to dissolve as they sit in the ground. Discovering this Mt. Holly mastodon rib bone -- first as in 1848 and then in the Hood Museum of Art Archive, has almost closed the gap between the first humans and last mammoths in New England.
Prior to this research, there was approximately 700 to 1,000 years between the extinction of mammoths and the first humans arrival.
For more information on the Dartmouth research project, visit https://hoodmuseum.dartmouth.edu/news/2021/03/did-woolly-mammoths-overlap-first-humans-new-england
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