In the heart of Interior Alaska, at a recently discovered archaeological site, scientists have uncovered a huge mammoth tusk dating back 14,000 years. Objects made of ivory and used for hunting were also identified.
The Holzman site was first discovered in 2015, hidden in the Alaska wilderness. Initial excavations revealed a series of late Pleistocene occupations containing remains of large mammal fauna, mammoth ivory fragments and stone tools buried in sediment deposits.
During the 2016 excavation season, a member of the team discovered the large mammoth tusk buried in the soil, about 1.5 metre underground. The tusk is nearly 5ft-long (140cm), and appears to be well preserved.
Radiocarbon dating suggests it is 14,000 years old, but it was sent to a lab at Adelphi University for further analyses.
Hunters or scavengers?
The scientists, are investigating who the first Americans were and when humans first settled in North America.
They hope the study of the tusk will help them settle important questions about the first Americans and about whether they overlapped with mammoths at the Holzman site.
The newly discovered tusk is 14,000 years old but so far evidence of human activity at the site only date back to 13,700 years ago.
"It's possible that humans found the tusk, which dated back to a few hundred years before their time, and used it to create their ivory tools", Brian Wygal, a co-principal investigator of the excavation and an associate professor of anthropology at Adelphi University, told IBTimes UK.
"One of the most important questions that we want to answer is whether the tusk was scavenged by these prehistoric people or if they hunted the mammoth down – in which cases mammoths and humans would have cohabited at the Holzman site 14,000 years ago".
The analyses of the tusk could provide an answer. The scientists are planning more isotope analyses as well as a study of ancient DNA to see if they can find traces that the mammoth was hunted. Depending on how well preserved the tusk is, they might also be able to establish how old it was when it died, its sex and what its diet was.
New excavations this summer might further help them determine if humans already lived at the site 14,000 years ago. "We may for instance find other parts of the mammoth which will indicate that it was consumed by people 14,000 years ago", Wygal said.
The research could also shed a new light on how mammoths became extinct in the US. If the analyses revealed the large mammals were hunted down, this will provide more evidence that humans might have played a role in their demise. The subject of how mammoths went extinct remains a source of heated debate among scientists.