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Humans Hunted Woolly Mammoths, Researchers Discover

— November 18, 2019

Scientists have discovered evidence that humans hunted and trapped woolly mammoths.

Scientists just made a history-changing discovery.  While researchers had once thought that long-ago humans did not attack woolly mammoths, they stand corrected.  A human made trap was recently found in Mexico.

“The first artificial traps for mammoths have been discovered in Tultepec, Mexico,” said Luis Cordoba Barradas, one of the archaeological rescue direction of the National Institute of Anthropology and Mexico History (INAH).

Along with the trap, more than a dozen mammoth skeletons were also discovered.  These were found in large pits apparently dug by hunters to capture and kill the animals 15,000 years ago.  The prehistoric skeletons were uncovered in Tultepec, 25 miles north of Mexico City, preserved in clay.  Archaeologists believe that the clay area originally surfaced when lake levels went down, which made it easier for hunters to construct traps.

“The discovery represents a watershed, a touchstone on what we imagined until now was the interaction of hunter-gatherer bands with these enormous herbivores,” said Pedro Francisco Sánchez Nava, national coordinator of archaeology at INAH.

Humans Hunted Wholly Mammoths, Researchers Discover
Photo by April Pethybridge on Unsplash

Archaeologist Luis Cordoba Barradas, of INAH’s Directorate of Archaeological Rescue, added that the findings offer “a more complex and complete concept of how mammoth hunts were carried out.”  He added, “The finding suggests that groups of between 20 and 30 hunters swept a herd of mammoths with torches and branches to divert some of the animals into the traps.  Once there, they were killed, and their carcasses cut up.  There was little evidence before that hunters attacked mammoths.  It was thought they frightened them into getting stuck in swamps and then waited for them to die.  This is evidence of direct attacks on mammoths.  In Tultepec we can see there was the intention to hunt and make use of the mammoths.”

An important clue to scientists that the pits were manmade and used for hunting was the discovery of intentional vertical cuts in the earth.  Barradas said one skull also had what appeared to be a long-term fracture, indicating the animal had succumb to a battle with hunters.  The bones were “ritually displayed,” which meant hunters “had to consider him brave, fierce, and showed him his respect in this way.”

The process, according to Barradas, was to lure the creatures to the pits and, once they were stuck in the clay, the hunters waited for them to die.  He explained, “It was thought they frightened them into getting stuck in swamps and then waited for them to die.  This is evidence of direct attacks on mammoths.”

The practice of hunting and trapping wholly mammoths could have also occurred in other parts of the world, but this is still unclear.

Adam N. Rountrey, a collection manager at the University of Michigan Museum of Paleontology, said, “While there are numerous mammoth megasites in Eurasia and North America where humans have processed carcasses, here has been debate about whether the remains represent hunted animals or scavenged natural deaths.”  He added that, until this point, none of these sites had been considered manmade.  “We are looking forward to seeing a peer-reviewed publication that presents the evidence for human construction of the traps,” he said of the site in Mexico.


Trove of Mammoth Skeletons Excavated Near Mexico City Gives Clues About Hunting

Researchers didn’t think humans attacked woolly mammoths – until they uncovered a trap in Mexico

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