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UA professor unearths ancient elephant in New Mexico

PHOENIX — A University of Arizona professor has unearthed a huge discovery.

“We found and excavated this archaeological site where a particular kind of extinct elephant, called a gomphothere, was killed and butchered about 13,500 years ago,” said Vance Holliday, professor of anthropology and geosciences at UA.

Gomphotheres were about the same size as modern-day elephants. They were once prevalent in North America but were presumed to have left before the first humans arrived on the continent toward the end of the Ice Age, about 13,000 to 13,500 years ago.

But now, Holliday says there is proof at least some gomphotheres remained in North America post-Ice Age and were hunted by early humans.

“At the end of the last Ice Age, it (the gomphothere) was relatively common in Central and South America (and) quite rare in North America,” he explained. “This is the first gomphothere kill site found in North America.”

The primitive elephant’s remains were found amid other artifacts from the Clovis culture in northwestern New Mexico.

“Clovis is the name given to a particular spear point — artifact style — and it’s the oldest recognizable industry or technology in North America,” he explained.

The Clovis culture used hunting and gathering methods for survival and is named after Clovis, New Mexico, where the first artifacts were originally found almost 90 years ago.

The University of Arizona co-directed the project with Mexico’s Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia.