Posts Tagged ‘Clovis’

Humans killed Gompotheres (Cuvieronius sp.) in Mexico 13,390 Years Ago

July 23, 2014

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.

Map of Sonora

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.

Gomphothere mandible in place, upside down, at El Fin del Mundo excavation site. The fossil was fully prepared at the INAH zooarchaeology lab in Mexico City.

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.

 A clear quartz Clovis point found near the bone bed at El Fin del Mundo. Although very difficult to shape into a tool, quartz was used by Clovis tool makers at several sites.

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


Georgia’s Pleistocene Horses

August 20, 2010

A herd of handsome, reddish-brown horses graze on a small beautiful prairie at the bottom of a lightly forested foothill.  A stallion pauses and raises his head from a clump of grass and white asters, while his harem of six with three foals continue tearing at the tawny and green broomsedge.  He detects the distinct odor of dire wolf nearby.  He whinnies in alarm and begins high-stepping as if signaling for his mates that they must gallop away from this place and now.  The mares get ready to follow his lead, but one seems reluctant to leave.  He nips her on her side to get her going, and they stampede 400 yards to the other side of the prairie where he leads them on a well-used trail through a young stand of oaks and pines.  A flock of grouse explode into the air, startling the horses and sending them in a different direction.  They hurdle bushes, vines, and fallen trees and reach a small creek.  Here they encounter a lone bull mastodon which they perceive as no threat.  They stop and drink, the wolves no longer close enough to pose an immediate threat.

A scene such as I described was probably a common one in North America during the Pleistocene.  Fossils of horses are usually found in most Pleistocene sites.  In Georgia disarticulated horse bones and especially teeth have been recovered from Ladds Mountain and Kingston Saltpeter Cave in Bartow County, and from the Isle of Hope, the Mayfair site, Porter’s Pit, Savannah River Dredgings, and Turtle River Dredgings along the state’s coast.

I perused the scientific literature to determine how many Pleistocene species of horse there were in what’s now Georgia and have concluded there were at least two.  An early paleontologist (Leidy, 18th century) identified one horse fossil from Georgia as belonging to the complex-toothed horse (Equus complicatus), also found in many eastern sites from Kentucky to Mississippi.  Horse fossils from South Carolina have been identified as belonging to the brother horse (Equus fraternus).  And Dr. Clayton Ray wrote that horse teeth from Ladds compared favorably to those of the Mexican horse (Equus conversidens).  However, a genetic study conducted by scientists from the San Diego Zoo compared DNA from the modern horse (Equus caballus) with that from Pleistocene-age fossils of the Yukon horse (Equus lambei), and they determined the two were actually one and the same species.  This calls into question the supposed large number of species of North American horses living here during the Ice Age.  It’s likely the number of species is inflated and many of the supposed different species are also simply no different than the modern horse, so loved by many today.

The confusing classification of Pleistocene horses is no surprise.  Different scientists in different places looked at newly discovered fossil horse teeth and couldn’t find an exact match, so they declared them as belonging to new species when the differences from known teeth were probably interspecific and due to a wide range of natural variance because horses were so abundant and widespread.  Imagine if horses went extinct today, and 10,000 years later a scientist in one region found bones of a large Clydesdale horse, and a scientist in another region found bones of a Shetland pony.  Each would conclude they’d discovered a new species, not realizing the great variability within the species.

True horses, known as caballoids, inhabited Georgia, but wild asses or donkeys, known as hemionids, lived here as well.  In Florida fossils of the pygmy onager (Equus tau) are sometimes found.  The hemionids are also split into many different species but probably can be simplified into one.

Upper left photo is of a wild horse.  Upper right is a photo of a horse tooth identified as Equus complicatus, that was discovered near Natchez, Mississippi.  Bottom photo is of Asian wild asses.  The confusing number of Pleistocene species of horses can probably be simplified into two:  the true horses or caballoids, and the wild asses, or hemionids.  The horse photo is from  The ass photo is from The tooth photo is from an interesting website  An essay on this latter site discusses the glacial loess found in northern Mississippi.

During the Pliocene the zebra was probably the most common horse species in what’s now Georgia.  The zebra may have been one of the first single-toed horses to  evolve from their 3-toed ancestors.  There’s no way of knowing whether it had stripes like modern zebras.  Photo from

Farther back in time, during the Pliocene, a species of horse (Equus simplicidens) resembling Grevy’s zebra roamed over what’s now Georgia along with the last of the 3-toed gazelle horses which were a dominant herbivore throughout the Miocene.  Horses first evolved in North America, and scientists found evidence of the very oldest known species of horse (the dawn horse) at the Red Hot Fossil Site in Mississippi.  A Wal-Mart has been built next to the site, but the site is still protected.  Fossils from here date all the way back to the Eocene, some 50 million years ago.  The dawn horse is famous for being at the bottom of the horse family tree in biology textbook discussions of horse evolution.

What happened to North America’s horses?

They became extirpated from the continent about 12,000 years ago.  I think human hunting contributed to the destruction of the entire population.  Humans didn’t kill every last individual, but they increased the mortality enough so that combined with normal natural mortality due to disease and predation, it exceeded the horse’s ability to reproduce and maintain a viable population.  Climate change models of extinction for North America’s horses don’t make sense.  When Europeans re-introduced horses, the beasts thrived in feral populations everywhere from Georgia to Nevada.  It’s hard to imagine a climatic phase that occurred 12,000 years ago that for only a narrow window of time rendered the entire continents of both North and South America unfit for horses.  And there is even archaeological evidence of humans hunting North American horses.  Clovis arrowheads with horse blood on them have been discovered associated with horse bones at Wally’s Beach in Alberta, Canada.  The scientists who studied the site think human-hunting combined with climate change caused the extinction of horses on the continent, but I disagree.  It was either one or the other.  I favor human hunting because horses survived millions of years of sometimes drastic climate changes but didn’t become extinct here until man shows up in the archaeological record.

Unlike bison, wild horses don’t migrate long distances.  Once humans exterminated them from a region, they were gone.  The last wild horses and asses lived in only the most remote areas of Asia and north Africa, indicating these regions remained less populated with people than any region in North America.

It pleases me to think of wild horses galloping across the woods and savannahs of Georgia.  Today, a nearby neighbor keeps horses that I sometimes hear whinnying in the evening.  I relax and imagine myself living in a cabin 36,000 years ago.