Mexico City’s Mammoth Skeleton Site Grows to World’s Largest Find
Archaeologists excavating the world’s earliest mammoth traps in Mexico have now recovered the bones of 200 mammoth skeletons , in total, leading them to call the area where they were found “mammoth central.” The additional mammoth skeletons are an exceptional find and are providing more information about how they were hunted by ancient peoples in Mexico, and how both humans and large mammals adapted to climate change in this region.
In November 2019, I wrote an Ancient Origins news article about a team of anthropologists and archaeologists from Mexico ’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) who had discovered two major mammoth hunting traps in the neighborhood of Tultepec, just north of Mexico City. These have been called the world's "first mammoth traps.” Then in May 2020, we published another news article about the discovery of another 60 mammoth skeletons. Now, the same team of researchers have found about “130 more,” bringing the new total to over 200 mammoth skeletons: hence the site’s new name “mammoth central.”
Huge Pit Traps Full Of Mammoth, Horse, Camel and Human Bones
Archaeologists working at the Mexican archaeological site say the 200 mammoths were killed somewhere between 10,000 and 20,000 years ago. And, even though the remains of 200 animals have been recovered, the team believes there still a huge number of bones and skeletons to be found beneath the surface of both sites. The excavation area is slated for construction as part of the new Felipe Angeles international airport in the town of Santa Lucia, which was originally a marshy landscape and perfectly suited for hunting big game.
A construction crew overlooking the area where the mammoth traps were found. This area will be part of the new Felipe Ángeles Airport. ( INAH)
Archaeologists suspect this site, located at the intersection of four valleys, is about 35,000 years old. Based on the evidence found so far, researchers say early humans exploited a prehistoric mammoth migration path with the construction of nearly perfect hunting traps. These highly effective traps resulted in the death of at least 200 mammoths. Some of the beasts measured up to 15 feet (4.6 meters) in height, weighed up to 22,000 pounds (one metric ton), and had tusks up to 16 feet (4.9 meters) long.
These new findings are helping experts to better understand how these massive ancient creatures died. According to a report in the Daily Mail the site where the 200 mammoth skeletons were found also yielded “15 human skulls and receptacles, obsidian and the remains of dogs.” Furthermore, archaeologist Ruben Manzanilla Lopez of the INAH told local media that his team have also recovered the remains of “25 camels and five horses.”
Bones of mammoths unearthed at the enormous hunting trap site that will become part of a new international airport in Mexico. ( INAH)
Did The Mammoths Die Because Humans Killed Them?
The massive Mexican archaeological site is about 12 miles (19 kilometers) wide and formed the shores of an ancient lakebed around 12,000 years ago. This area attracted countless mammoths, and many died in its marshy soils. In 2017, the archaeologists discovered the first of a series of man-made pits (traps) designed to capture mammoths along this ancient shoreline. When the bones found in the pits were examined for signs of human butchering, the researchers found dozens of mammoth bone tools that were shaped and sized exactly like the shafts used to hold tools and cutting implements discovered in Tultepec.
However, Professor Manzanilla Lopez said the team is being cautious about the meaning of these tool shaft remains until laboratory results confirm their suspicions. If they are right, then these 200 mammoths were trapped for food and for bones to make tools and weapons. While the overall evidence suggests that teams of experienced mammoth hunters trapped and killed these mammoths, paleontologist Joaquin Arroyo Cabrales says the evidence will be analyzed to test whether it really was humans “or climate change” that led to their death.
How Climate Change And Human Innovation Worked Together
Climate change in prehistoric Mexico had a huge impact on the landscape and on the large mammals that live there. The period was characterized by significant decreases in precipitation and higher temperatures. This resulted in increasing pressure on the economies and societies of mammoth hunters and the movement of mammoths over much of the country.
- Ancient Pyramid Cities of Peru: A Catalogue of Swift Decline
- Here Come the Mammoths, 60 of Them, Unearthed at Mexican Airport
- Did Climate Change Cause the Demise of the Ancient Indus Valley Civilization?
Speculating on the question “was it humans or climate change, that led to the mammoth’s demise,” Arroyo Cabrales said he thinks the answer will show that “there was a synergy effect between climate change and human presence.” What he means by this is that the huge wild animals that once fed our early Mesoamerican ancestors were already suffering from starvation and thirst caused by climate change. Consequently, these ancient hunters realized old migration patterns were changing and took the opportunity to make huge traps to catch and kill weaker and slower beasts. These Mexican mammoth traps are changing both how we view ancient hunting societies and how those societies adapted to climate change.
Top image: Archaeologists working at the massive mammoth skeleton site or mammoth trap area in Mexico. Source: INAH
By Ashley Cowie