Researchers say that by examining mammoth bones that were recently found in west-central Kansas, they hope to determine how the animal died and learn more about the earliest humans in the region.
The bones were discovered during construction on a Scott County farm. Researchers say they could date back to the earliest New World civilization.
It's the latest of several discoveries that have included the fossils of giant mammoths, the extinct, prehistoric cousin to the elephant that once roamed the region.
Researchers at the University of Kansas say there is evidence that the mammoth may have been killed by the region's earliest inhabitants. The conjecture is preliminary, but University of Kansas Professor Rolfe Mandel said the find will lead to further study of the bones to see how and when the mammoth died.
"If you remember back to your high school days, the Clovis people followed the mammoth (into North America)," Mandel said of the hunter-gatherers who lived here roughly 12,000 to 13,000 years ago. He said he and his colleagues are trying to find the earliest evidence of humans.
Archaeologists have exposed Clovis-era remains at only one other Kansas site, near Kanorado in Sherman County.
Mandel is director of the University of Kansas' Odyssey Archaeological Research Fund, an endowed program trying to find the earliest evidence of humans on the Great Plains. He and a small group of archaeologists and students visited the Scott County site last week.
After the bones were found on their farm during construction, Mike and Debbie Scheuerman alerted the Natural Resources Conservation Service, said Jack Ray, a research archaeologist with Missouri State University who is also working with the Odyssey program.
The group helped unearth six rib bones, a lower leg bone and a scapula, or shoulder blade, Ray said. The bones will undergo carbon dating at the university before they are sent to a museum in Denver.
About 50 yards away, the crew also found stone flakes where these early Americans may have sharpened knives or made spear points, Ray said.
Continued research may shed light on whether the bones and the artifacts are connected and whether humans killed the animal, Ray said.
There are signs that could lead toward the latter, including that the artifacts were found nearby and that the two sites were buried at the same depth. The bones were also found in the uplands instead of the lowlands near a creek or water body, a typical place a mammoth might die, Ray said.
"That kind of suggests there were humans nearby and that they might have been camped nearby," Ray said. "That is just a possibility."
He said researchers plan to return next year to gather more information.