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The mammoth traps were found in Tultepec, Mexico. Source: Edith Camacho, INAH

The World’s First 'Mammoth Traps' Found in Mexico?

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Anthropologists from Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History said in a statement on Wednesday that a pair of hunting pits, essentially mammoth traps, were discovered during excavations on land that had been earmarked for a new garbage dump in the neighborhood of Tultepec, just north of Mexico City.

The world's “first mammoth traps” are two human-built pits about 6 feet (1.70 meters) deep and 25 yards (22.86 meters) in diameter, and they were found to be filled with 800 bones from at least 14 mammoths. Some of the bones showed signs of butchery and it is thought that the ancient hunters may have chased mammoths into the pits, where there would have been battered to death.

Some of the bones showed signs of butchery. (Melitón Tapia/INAH)

Some of the bones showed signs of butchery. (Melitón Tapia/INAH)

Ancient Mammoths, Horses, and Camels

Woolly mammoth’s roamed the Earth tens of thousands of years ago and survived the last ice age. Their fossils have been discovered on every continent except Australia, but about 10,000 years ago their numbers began dwindling before the species eventually became extinct 4,000 years ago through climate change and being over hunted by humans.

The new skeletal mammoth remains were found in Tultepec, near the site where President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador's Government has commissioned the building of a new airport for Mexico City. Archaeologist Luis Cordoba told journalists at APNews that mammoths lived here for thousands of years and at least five mammoth herds lived in the area of the find, that “grew, reproduced, died, were hunted” alongside other species including “horses and camels.”

Rains Revealed Ancient “Monsters”

But these are not the first mammoth bones discovered in Mexico. In the 1970s, workers building the Mexico City subway found a mammoth skeleton while digging on the capital's north side, and in August 2019 announced the recent discovery of “13,000-year-old mammoth bones” and those of ancestors of the horse and armadillo in southern Jalisco state in western Mexico.

This 13,000-year-old specimen was discovered by Antonio Vargas Morena, a worker at the community museum and amateur paleontologist, on a hilltop last June in San Jose de la Tinaja in the Zapoltitic municipality of southern Jalisco. Heavy rain had revealed the ancient bones and the worker notified experts at INAH, who eventually dated the bones to between 13,000 and 30,000 years ago, which included bones of the glyptodon, the ancestral horse, which are all on display at the Paleontology Museum in Guadalajara, capital of Jalisco state.

Glyptodon. (Pavel.Riha.CB/CC BY SA 3.0)

Mammoth Traps

The two newly discovered hunting pits are the earliest evidence of mammoth “trapping” in Mexico but the oldest evidence of mammoth hunting in Europe comes from the Gravettian archaeological site Kraków Spadzista, in Poland, which contains thousands of lithic artifacts and the remains of 100 woolly mammoths dating to 23,000 BC.

Evidence that these beasts had been hunted came as a fragment of a flint blade was found embedded into a mammoth rib, and according to Science Direct, the mortality profile of 112 mammoths supported the suspicion that they had been hunted. It is thought that some age groups may have been depleted due to “recurring heavy hunting” by humans during periods of environmental stress, which may have led to woolly mammoth extinction.

Ancient Arctic Mammoth Hunters

The oldest evidence ever found for mammoth hunting, according to an article in ScienceMag, was discovered in August of 2012 by an 11-year-old boy while exploring the foggy coast of Yenisei Bay, about 2000 kilometers (1242.74 miles) south of the North Pole. He came upon the leg bones of a woolly mammoth eroding out of frozen sediments and scientists later determined that it had been “killed by humans,” evident in that the creature’s eye sockets, ribs, and jaw had been “battered.”

What was really shocking in this discovery is that the mammoth had been killed “45,000 years ago” which meant humans lived in the Arctic more than 10,000 years earlier than believed, traversing the harshest parts of the globe, and had the adaptive ability to migrate almost everywhere. Surviving at those latitudes requires highly specialized technologies and “extreme cooperation,” implying that the hunters were “modern humans” and Ted Goebel, an archaeologist at Texas A&M University, College Station said, “if these hunters survived in the Arctic Circle 45,000 years ago, they could have lived virtually anywhere on Earth.”

Prehistoric men hunting a young mammoth. (anibal / Adobe Stock)

Prehistoric men hunting a young mammoth. (anibal / Adobe Stock)

Top Image: The mammoth traps were found in Tultepec, Mexico. Source: Edith Camacho, INAH

By Ashley Cowie



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I know we have to eat and I eat meat, but I still feel pain for the animals

Mary Madeline

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Ashley is a Scottish historian, author, and documentary filmmaker presenting original perspectives on historical problems in accessible and exciting ways.

He was raised in Wick, a small fishing village in the county of Caithness on the north east coast of... Read More

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