The fossil record suggests Columbian mammoths (Mammuthus colombi) and mastodons (Mammut americanum) were relatively common across North America during the late Pleistocene. Woolly mammoths (Mammuthus primigenius) ranged as far south as Virginia but were more common to the north in Beringia and Eurasia. Few people are aware that a 4th species of elephant-like beast, the gompothere (Cuvieronius tropicalis), expanded its range to include southeastern North America during warmer climate stages. The gompothere likely had sparse hair like other large tropical mammals such as elephants, rhinos, and humans. So when climatic conditions deteriorated, the gompothere’s range contracted toward Central and South America, while the more heavily furred mastodons and mammoths still thrived in regions with subfreezing temperatures. Prior to 2007, the only evidence that humans hunted gompotheres had been found in South America. But that year, scientists excavating the El Fin del Mundo site in the Sonoran Province of Mexico discovered 2 piles of gompothere bones eroding from the side of a gulley (or arroyo as known in Spanish). These bones showed evidence of human modification.
Location of Sonora, Mexico. Gompotheres, a cold intolerant species, still occurred here as late as 13,390 years ago. They may have ranged into southeastern North America until about 120,000 BP, living alongside the more cold tolerant Columbian mammoths and mastodons.
Illustration of the extinct gompothere. This species lived in Central and South America and Mexico until the end of the Pleistocene. During warm climate phases it also colonized southeastern North America as far north as the North Carolina coastal plain.
Lower jaw bones of a subadult gompothere found in the Sonoran Desert, Mexico.
Archaeologists found 27 artifacts associated with the gompothere bones, including flakes in direct contact with the bones. Some of the bones had been burned, and some of the projectile points were snapped as if they’d broken upon contact. One of the gompotheres was a juvenile aged 0-12 years old, while the other was a subadult aged 12-23 years old. The way the bones were arranged into piles also suggests human modification. Bones found included ankles, feet, limbs, shoulders, jaws, and teeth. Radiocarbon dating indicates a calender year date of 13,390 years BP, and the artifacts are of the Clovis Culture. This is the only known Clovis site south of the Rio Grande River.
Scientists believe this site was a freshwater marsh fed by a spring during the late Pleistocene. Carnivores gnawed on the bones, hooved animals trampled upon them, and then the bones were exposed to the sun long enough to become dessicated, but eventually the marsh mud covered them. The environment today is much more arid, though sudden showers have contibuted to the erosion of the gulley that has exposed the bones.
Most of the spear points found at the El Fin Del Mundo fossil site were made from gray chert stone but this one was made from clear quartz. What a beautiful artifact.
A Clovis camp yielding over 100 artifacts stretches out from 500-1000 meters from the butchered gompothere remains. Most of the artifacts were made from local chert, but the 1 in the image above was made from clear quartz.
Sanchez, G; et. al.
“Human (Clovis)-Gompothere (Cuvieronius sp.) association 13,390 Calibrated BP in Sonora, Mexico”
PNAS 140956111 2014