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article imageBone engraving depicts pre-historic mammal

By Andrew Ardizzi     Jun 23, 2011 in Science
Scientists from the Smithsonian Institution and the University of Florida have discovered a bone fragment, believed to be 13,000 years old, in a Florida cave depicting an incise image of a mammoth or mastodon.
The bone fragment was discovered by avocational fossil hunter James Kennedy nearly five years ago in Vero Beach, Florida and contains a three inch by 1.75 inch engraving believed to be the oldest and only known example of proboscidean animals - the species of animals with trunks - in the Americas. Kennedy discovered the engraving while cleaning the fossil in 2009.
Upon realizing the significance of the find, Kennedy contacted scientists at the university, the Smithsonian's museum and the National Museum of Natural History to analyze it.
"This is an incredibly exciting discovery," Dennis Stanford, anthropologist at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, told Science Daily. "There are hundreds of depictions of proboscideans on cave walls and carved into bones in Europe, but none from America -- until now."
Based on the engraving, it is believed the depiction is likely a mammoth or mastodon, although a precise identification wasn't possible due to the fragment's condition.
Barbara Purdy, a professor emerita of anthropology at the University of Florida, told Science Daily the investigation to determine the authenticity of the fragment was a prime example of interdisciplinary research and cooperation among professionals.
"There was considerable skepticism expressed about the authenticity of the incising on the bone until it was examined exhaustively by archaeologists, paleontologists, forensic anthropologists, materials science engineers and artists," Purdy told Science Daily.
The bone fragment is believed to a be a genuine specimen and is thought to provide evidence that humans lived in the Americas during the last Ice Age, further validating the claims made by geologist Elias Howard Sellards in the early 20th century.
ABC News reports that after thorough analysis it was determined the grooves on the bone fragment were not recently carved or that metal tools were used.
A cast of the engraved bone fragment is part of an exhibit of Florida Mammoth and Mastodons at the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville.
More about cave fossils, Bone fragments, Woolly mammoth
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