Possible New Megafauna Kill Site Found in Mexico

Whenever news organization report new paleontological discoveries, I can always count on the journalist to sensationalize the find, and they often make assumptions that are factually incorrect.  Here is an example.  A mostly complete Columbian mammoth (Mammuthus colombi) was unearthed in Tultepec, Mexico in December 2015 when workers digging a trench for a new sewer line found the bones 6 feet below the surface of the ground.  Luis Cordoba Barradas, a Mexican archaeologist, took over the excavation.

Image result for tultepec mexico map

Location of Tultepec, Mexico where the remains of 1 mammoth were found 6 feet underground.  It may have been butchered by humans.

Mexican archaeologist Luis Cordoba works on parts of a skeleton of a mammoth discovered in December 2015 in Tultepec, Mexico 

Mammoth skull with intact tusks in the process of being excavated in Tultepec.

Over a dozen news services reported the discovery, but important information is missing from all the reports.  This particular mammoth lived some time between 14,000 BP-12,000 BP and was 20-25 years old at the time of its death.  According to all the reports, the position of the bones suggests possible human butchery.  But this is a sensationalist overreach because many of these reports left out the alternative explanation–the position of the bones could be attributed to human butchers OR natural predators scattering the bones.  None of the new reports go into the details of why this might be considered a human-killed specimen.  Were stone tools found associated with the bones?  Are butcher marks on the bones?  Did they find animal gnaw marks?

A detailed description of the specimen hasn’t been published in the scientific literature yet, as far as I know.  The area was a lake during the late Pleistocene, and the mammoth may have been stuck in the mud when it was killed.  I would be interested in the stratigraphic context, but I’ll probably have to wait until the important details are published in a journal.  (I did send the archaeologist an email, asking him for more details.  I’ll post his response, if he sends me one.)

The news reports reveal the confusion of the original reporter.  More than 1 report mentions that this specimen was a subspecies of mammoth.  Obviously, many of the articles were simply copied verbatim from information reported in someone’s original report. (In other words…plagiarized)  I think this journalist was under the mistaken impression that the Columbian mammoth was a subspecies of the woolly mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius).  This is incorrect.  The Columbian mammoth was a distinct species, though recent genetic evidence, along with old anatomical studies, show the 2 species interbred where their ranges overlapped.  (See: https://markgelbart.wordpress.com/2016/02/18/the-southern-and-northern-range-limits-of-the-columbian-mammoth-mammuthus-colombi/ )

Hopefully, a scientific journal will publish a paper about this species because the news reports are just so inadequate.

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