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Society for American Archaeology Clovis and the American Mastodon at Big Bone Lick, Kentucky Author(s): Kenneth B. Tankersley, Michael R. Waters and Thomas W. Stafford, Jr. Reviewed work(s): Source: American Antiquity, Vol. 74, No. 3 (Jul., 2009), pp. 558-567 Published by: Society for American Archaeology Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/20622443 . Accessed: 27/08/2012 08:56 Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at . http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp . JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact [email protected] . Society for American Archaeology is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to American Antiquity. http://www.jstor.org

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  • Society for American Archaeology

    Clovis and the American Mastodon at Big Bone Lick, KentuckyAuthor(s): Kenneth B. Tankersley, Michael R. Waters and Thomas W. Stafford, Jr.Reviewed work(s):Source: American Antiquity, Vol. 74, No. 3 (Jul., 2009), pp. 558-567Published by: Society for American ArchaeologyStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/20622443 .Accessed: 27/08/2012 08:56

    Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at .http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp

    .JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range ofcontent in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new formsof scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact [email protected]


    Society for American Archaeology is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access toAmerican Antiquity.




    Kenneth B. Tankersley, Michael R. Waters, and Thomas W. Stafford, Jr.

    Contemporaneity of people and the American mastodon (Mammut americanum) at Big Bone Lick, Kentucky, has been exten

    sively debated for more than two hundred years. Newly interpreted stratigraphic excavations and direct AMS 14C mea

    surements on mastodon bones from Big Bone Lick, Kentucky, indicate that the megafauna are a palimpsest of fossils spanning at least 1,200 calendar years (11,020 ? 30 to 12,210 ? 35 RCyrB.R). The radiocarbon evidence indicates that mastodons

    and Clovis people overlapped in time; however, other than one fossil with a possible cut mark and Clovis artifacts that are

    physically associated with but dispersed within the bone-bearing deposits, there is no incontrovertible evidence that humans

    hunted Mammut americanum at the site.

    La contemporaneidad de los seres humanos y el mastodonte americano (Mammut americanum) en Big Bone Lick, Kentucky, ha sido extensamente debatida por mas de doscientos anos. Tanto las excavaciones estratifigrdficas reden interpretadas como

    las determinaciones directas de AMS 14 C llevadas a cabo en los huesos de mastodonte procedentes de Big Bone Lick, Ken

    tucky, indican que la megafauna es un palimpsesto defosiles que abarcan por lo menos unos 1200 anos civiles (11,020 ? 30

    to 12,210 ? 35 RC anos a.p.). A la vez, laspruebas de radiocarbono indican que los mastodontes y la gente Clovis traslaparon en el tiempo. Sin embargo, aparte de un solof?sil de colocaci?n problemdtica y los artefactos Clovis fisicamente asociados

    pero dispersados dentro de las capas que contienen restos ?seos, no hay evidencias incontrovertibles que los seres humanos

    cazaban a los Mammut americanum en el sitio.

    Big Bone Lick, often referred to as the birth

    place of American paleontology, is located less than 2 km from the Ohio River in

    Boone County, Kentucky. It is one of the largest and most reliable salt springs in eastern North America where brine discharges to the surface near the confluence of Big Bone Lick Creek and Gum Branch under hydrostatic pressure through fault

    planes and bedrock fractures in the limestone and shale of the Ordovician-age Cincinnatian Series

    (Stout et al. 1932:15; Tankersley 1985; Figure 1).

    During the late Pleistocene, saline springs and the

    surrounding salt licks attracted a faunal commu

    nity including Bootherium bombifrons (Helmeted Musk Ox or Harlan's Musk Ox), Bison antiquus (Late Pleistocene Bison), Cervalces scotti (Stag

    Moose), Equus complicatus (Complex-tooth Horse), Paramylodon harlani (Harlan's Ground

    Sloth), Mammuthus sp. (Mammoth), Megalonyx jeffersonii (Jefferson's Ground Sloth), Rangifer tarandus (Caribou), Mammut americanum (the

    American mastodon), and the people who hunted and scavenged them (Tankersley 1985,1986,1987, 1992a).

    In this paper we first present a brief overview of the discovery and investigations of Big Bone Lick. This is followed by a summary of the Uni

    versity of Cincinnati's 1981 investigations and a

    discussion of new radiocarbon dates for the site.

    Historical Background

    The mastodon remains and salt springs at Big Bone Lick had been known and used for centuries by native peoples of the Ohio valley. Europeans first saw the site in 1729 (Jillson 1936). Following this,

    Kenneth B. Tankersley Department of Anthropology, University of Cincinnati, OH 45221 ([email protected]) Michael R. Waters Center for the Study of the First Americans, Departments of Anthropology and Geography, Texas

    A&M University, College Station, TX 77843-4352 ([email protected]) Thomas W. Stafford, Jr. Stafford Research Laboratories, 200 Acadia Avenue, Lafayette, CO 80026 ([email protected]


    American Antiquity 74(3), 2009, pp. 558-567

    Copyright ?2009 by the Society for American Archaeology


  • REPORTS 559

    Figure 1. Location and geologic setting of Big Bone Lick.

    Big Bone Lick was periodically visited through the

    mid-eighteenth century. In 1765 the American

    Philosophical Society sponsored the first structured excavations.

    A year later, a second excavation was conducted on behalf of Benjamin Franklin and Lord Shelborn of London, England, which resulted in the collec tion of a substantial number of mastodon fossils. After a detailed examination of the specimens, Franklin and Shelborn presented the first paleon tological report on the site to the Royal Society of

    London in 1767. They concluded that an extinct

    elephant-like creature lived at a time when the cli mate was different from the present and that this creature was extinct before the arrival of the Shawnee (Jillson 1936). Celebrated anatomist

    William Hunter (1768) disagreed with Franklin and Shelborn, and believed that it was much more

    likely that the Shawnee hunted the mastodon into extinction (Peale 1802).

    Thomas Jefferson also believed that indigenous people hunted mastodons based on Algonquian oral

    history, which describes how their ancestors hunted and killed mastodons at Big Bone Lick (Jefferson 1801). In 1795, Jefferson instructed William Henry

    Harrison to go to Big Bone Lick and collect an

    assemblage of mastodon bones. Harrison went to the site and conducted a massive excavation of the

    ground around the salt springs. In 1797, Jefferson sent some of the mastodon fossils to Georges Dagobert Cuvier for examination (Adams 1879). Cuvier (1796, 1800, 1806a, 1806b) used the fos sils as evidence of past catastrophic climatic

    change. Between 1803 and 1806, William Goforth, a

    medical doctor from Cincinnati, collected more

    than five metric tons of fossils at the site for Ben

    jamin Franklin and the American Philosophical Society. Goforth described the stratigraphic con

    text, stating that the mastodon bones occurred on

    the surface of a gravel layer at a depth of 11 feet, below layers of blue clay containing bones of

    smaller, more-modern animals such as deer, elk,

    bison, and bear. Goforth also argued that the

  • 560 AMERICAN ANTIQUITY [Vol. 74, No. 3,2009]

    CENTIMETERS 0 12 3 4 5

    Figure 2. Fluted bifaces from Big Bone Lick: (a) found by E. Crawford in the 1960s; (b) found by a local collector, date unknown; (c) found by J.D. Moore in the 1930s; (d) found by W. Goforth 1803-1807; (e) found by a local col

    lector, date unknown; (f) found by a local collector in 1898; (g) and (h) found by W. Goforth 1803-1807.

    mastodon remains were likely the result of hunt

    ing because they were found disarticulated (Cum

    ing 1810). During the summer of 1807, Goforth returned to the Lick at the request of then President Jefferson and the American Philosophical Society. He conducted an extensive excavation around the salt springs and assembled an enormous collection of mastodon bones, teeth, and tusks as well as

    flaked-stone artifacts. In 1808, Jefferson placed three hundred bones from the Lick on display in a

    large room at the White House. He sent duplicate specimens to the Musee d'Histoire Naturelle in

    Paris, France. Because the focus of Jefferson's excavations was on the collection of mastodon fos

    sils, Goforth was able to keep all of the artifacts recovered during the dig. These artifacts are now curated by the Cincinnati Museum Center and include three Clovis fluted bifaces (Figure 2d, g, and h).

    Excavations for mastodon fossils continued

    intermittently into the 1830s. Almost three metric

    tons of mastodon bones, including 22 tusks, were collected and dispersed to universities, museums, and scientific institutions in New England and Great Britain (Cooper et al. 1831). In 1841, Charles

    Lyell (1845), the father of modern geology, exam ined the Quaternary deposits of Big Bone Lick and

    placed them into the newly defined Pleistocene and Recent Epochs. Excavations continued at Big Bone Lick after the American Civil War, but by then the

    mastodon-bearing deposits had been greatly depleted by nearly a century and a half of intensive excavation. In 1898, however, a local artifact col lector found a fluted biface in possible association with mastodon remains (Figure 2f).

    Little work occurred at Big Bone Lick during the twentieth century. Around 1930, another Clo vis fluted biface was found eroding from the late Pleistocene deposits (Figure 2c). Thirty years later, C. Bertrand Schultz became intrigued by the dis

    covery of artifacts in physical association with mastodon remains at Big Bone Lick. Motivated by this interest, Schultz headed an interdisciplinary team conducting excavations at the site from 1962 to 1966 with the goal of understanding the associ ation between humans and mastodons. They exposed the remains of numerous mastodons as well as a Clovis fluted biface (Figure 2a). A radio carbon date of 10,600 ? 259 RC yr B.P. (W-1358), calibrated to 12,160

    - 12,840 cal yr B.P, was

    obtained from a sample of wood excavated in close

    proximity to a mastodon tusk in gray, silty clay (Levin et al. 1965:374). A second radiocarbon date of < 200 RC yr B.P. (W-1357) was obtained from the same stratum as the Clovis-age sample. Given that the mastodon bones could not be reliably dated in the 1960s and a more recent radiocarbon date and artifact were obtained from the same stratum,

    contemporaneity between mastodon and Clovis artifacts at the site remained ambiguous. Little work was pursued at the site after this time.

    The 1981 Investigations

    In 1981, Tankersley, working under the auspices of the University of Cincinnati, conducted a geoar chaeological survey of Big Bone Lick to locate strata that contained both mastodon remains and Clovis artifacts. Fieldwork included hand exca vation of eight 1-m2 units (Figure 3, locations H,

    M, N, R, T, U, V, and W) in terrace and floodplain

  • REPORTS 561

    Figure 3. Location of mastodon bone samples, section excavations, and core extractions at Big Bone Lick.

    cut-bank exposures along Big Bone Lick Creek and Gum Branch (Figure 3). Sediments were

    removed in 1 cm levels and water screened

    through .64 and .25 mm mesh screens to recover

    artifacts and vertebrate fossils for radiocarbon

    assays. Additionally, 15 columns of sediment

    approximately 3 to 10 m long were extracted using a portable 6 cm diameter split-spoon drill rig (Fig ure 3, locations A, B, C, D, E, F, G, I, J, K, L, O, P, Q, and S). These data were used to define the late Quaternary stratigraphy of the Big Bone Lick area. The location of diagnostic artifacts and fos sil bone, along with radiocarbon dates help to pro vide chronological control (Tankersley 1985, 1987, 1992a).

    Quaternary Stratigraphy

    Four late Quaternary geomorphic surfaces were

    mapped along Big Bone Creek (Figure 1). There is a high-level fluvial deposit, two late Pleistocene terraces (T-2 andT-l), and a Holocene floodplain (Figure 4:T-0). Similar geomorphic surfaces are

    found in the neighboring drainage basins that are

    tributaries to the glaciated Ohio River Valley (Gray 1984; Tankersley et al. 1983). The sediments asso

    ciated with these surfaces were separated into four units that are labeled 1, 2, 3, and 4, from oldest to

    youngest. These sediments are lithologically sim ilar and are sometimes difficult to distinguish (c.f.

    Swadley 1969).

  • 562 AMERICAN ANTIQUITY [Vol. 74, No. 3, 2009]

    Figure 4. Cross-section of Quaternary sediments underlying T-0 and T-l at Big Bone Lick. Location of radiocarbon

    dates, fossils, and artifacts is approximate.

    Pre-late glacial fluvial deposits (Unit 1) occur on ridge tops at elevations > 200 m above sea level

    (Potter 2007). These deposits are up to seven meters thick and composed of deeply weathered, yellow ish brown clayey silt and sand with abundant rounded to subangular pebbles and cobbles of chert,

    quartz, and limonitic concretions. There are no

    Chronometrie dates from these sediments and fau nal remains are absent.

    Terrace 2 (Figure 4:T-2) lies approximately 152-m above sea level. The sediments underlying

    T-2 vary from one to four meters thick and are com

    posed of light gray to brownish gray clay, clayey silt, and gravelly clay (Unit 2). Within these sedi

    ments are heavily mineralized, black to gray, dis articulated bones of Bootherium bombifrons (Helmeted Musk Ox or Harlan's Musk Ox), Equus complicatus (Complex-tooth Horse), and Mam muthus sp. (Mammoth). A fragment of wood from this unit yielded a radiocarbon date of 17,200 ? 600

    RCyrB.P. (W-1617;Table 1). The fine-grained sed iments of Unit 2 were deposited within a lacustrine environment when outwash filled the adjacent Ohio River Valley and dammed tributary drainages such as Big Bone Creek (Goldthwait 1959; Tankersley et al. 1983). At that time the tributary valleys

    became large lakes. The lake filling the Big Bone

    Valley was later drained and the creek downcut created T-2.

    Terrace 1 (Figure 4:T-1) lies 146 m above sea

    level. It is underlain by a weathered yellowish gray to yellowish brown clayey gravel, silty gravel, and

    silty clay (Unit 3) deposited by alluvial processes. Disarticulated remains of Bison antiquus (Bison), Rangifer tarandus (Caribou), and Mammut amer

    icanum (Mastodon) occur within the basal gravels of this unit. In most places, Unit 2 rests uncon

    formably on Unit 3, which extends beneath the T-l terrace (Figure 5).

    Mastodon fossils in Unit 3 occur in three

    conditions?pristine, broken, and abraded. Mastodon fossils and Clovis artifacts were found

    together in Unit 3. Both the artifacts and mastodon bones were found at the contact between Units 3 and 2 (Figure 5). Radiocarbon dates on wood and bone from the base of Unit 3 range from 10,600 ?

    250 RC yr B .P. (W-1358) to 12,210 ? 35 RC yr B .P.

    (UCIAMS-35591) (Table 1). Besides the previously recovered Clovis arti

    facts from Big Bone Lick, the testing in 1981 recov

    ered two additional Clovis artifacts in the same stratum as mastodon fossils. A heavily patinated

  • REPORTS 563

    retouch flake was found in direct association with mastodon bone locality H, and a Clovis blade tool was found exposed in a nearby cut-bank locality M (Figure 6). More specifically, it is a spurred end

    scraper manufactured on the distal end of a retouched blade displaying a well-defined blade facet and proximal hinge break. The blade was struck from a prepared polyhedral core manufac

    tured from Fort Payne chert, which outcrops almost 400 km southwest of Big Bone Lick.

    Blade tools are an important and distinctive trait of the Clovis technological complex. They were first identified at the Clovis type site, Blackwater

    Draw, New Mexico. Since their initial discovery, blade tools have been found on Clovis sites across North America including the Aubrey, Kevin-Davis,

  • 564 AMERICAN ANTIQUITY [Vol. 74, No. 3, 2009]

    Figure 6. Clovis blade tool found by Tankersley in 1981 at locality M.

    and Kincade Rocksheiter sites in Texas, the Bostrom site in Illinois, the Busse cache and Sailor Helton site in Kansas, the Domebo site in Okla

    homa, the Cactus Hill and Williamson sites in

    Virginia, the Fenn cache in Wyoming, the Little River site complex in Kentucky, the Murray Springs site in Arizona, and the Wells Creek Crater and Carson-Conn Short sites in Tennessee (Tankersley 2004:55).

    The modern floodplain (Figure 4:T-0) lies 143.5 to 144.0 m above sea level. The sediments

    underlying the floodplain are composed of four to

    eight meters of light brown to dark gray colored,

    poorly sorted, silty sand, clayey silt, sandy silt, and

    gravel (Unit 4). The gravels at the base of the flood

    plain contain the disarticulated remains of Bison bison (Modern Bison), Cervus canadensis (Elk), and Odocoileus virginianus (White-tailed Deer), and are especially abundant in the silty sand within the gravel. Radiocarbon dates from Unit 4 range from Modern to 530 ? 120 RC yr B.P. (UGa-4291; Table 1).


    The radiocarbon technique has been used since 1965 to date the fauna and artifacts found at Big

    Bone Lick. Radiocarbon dating at Big Bone Lick was performed in three phases. The first series of dates were conventional, ?-decay radiocarbon mea

    surements made between 1965 and 1981 (Table 1). This work established that the stratigraphy extended from Modern to at least 17,200 ? 200 RC

    yr B.P. (W-1617), and that there was a physical association between mastodon remains and Clovis artifacts. It also suggested that there was signifi cant physical mixing of recent and late Pleistocene fossils and sediments (Levin et al. 1965, 1967;

    Tankersley 1986, 1987, 1992a, 1992b). Accelerator Mass Spectrometry (AMS) 14C dat

    ing enables smaller and chemically pure samples to be dated. During the second phase of testing in

    1981, samples of bone, teeth, and ivory were sub mitted to the Oxford University Laboratory, in Eng land for dating. These fossils could not be dated, however, because the specimens contained insuf ficient collagen for analysis. These fossils were from Unit 3 in excavation area H. At that time, it was concluded that digenesis destroyed the major ity of the collagen, that the samples were probably significantly older than terminal Pleistocene, and that permeable sediments enabled collagen to be leached.

    In 2007, the third phase of testing consisted of a second attempt to date the faunal remains and evaluate the potential Clovis-mastodon associa

    tion. Three mastodon fossils collected in 1981 were selected for AMS dating because the specimens were in stratigraphic association with Clovis arti facts or Clovis-age sediments. The three specimens were excavated from a silty clay with gravel hori zon of Unit 3 that was < 30 cm thick, within a one

    by-one meter unit at locality H. Interestingly, a foot

    bone, possibly a pedal proximal phalanx, SR-7180, had a sharp curvilinear cut on the lateral ventral sur face resembling a human-mediated cut mark. The cut is.3 mm in width and 1.6 cm in length and is not a vascular groove or other kind of natural fea ture. The width of the cut is comparable in size to a chert flake edge, and the curvature and location are consistent with a pattern of butchering.

    Chemical preparation and AMS dating followed

    procedures described in Stafford et al. (1991) and Waters and Stafford (2007). Data for the chemical

    pretreatment and dating results are summarized in Table 1. These bones yielded ages of 11,020 ? 30


    Table 1. Radiocarbon Measurements from Wood and Bone, Big Bone Lick, Kentucky.


    Sample & Taxon ? 1 SD Unit

    14CAge, Yr Bp, Cal Bp

    Calibrated Age, 2o- (95.4%) (Oxcal 4.0)


    and Lab


    14C Dating Method





    Bone Collagen Bison bison




    Collagen Mammut



    Collagen Mammut



    Collagen Mammut



    Picea sp.

  • 566 AMERICAN ANTIQUITY [Vol. 74, No. 3, 2009]

    Table 2. Mastodon Bone Collagen Composition, Big Bone Lick, Kentucky.


    And Lab


    Wt% Yield Decalcified Collagen Gelatin

    Fraction Collagen Pseudomorph Pseudomorph 513C%o 815N%o

    Dated (Modern = 20-21%) (Modern = 100%) (Modern = 100%) (Vpdb) (Air) C/N t~v t.7-/-\tt 1 o ^7 rviC no *-\ 1 1a r to i t r\

    UCIAMS-35590 XAD KOH- 13.7

    SR-7180 Gelatin

    Hydrolyzate UCIAMS-35591 XAD KOH- 1.2

    SR-7181 Gelatin

    Hydrolyzate UCIAMS-35592 XAD KOH- 7.1 SR-7182 Gelatin








    -21.19 6.78 3.19

    -21.90 7.50 3.85

    -21.13 6.36 3.25


    UCIAMS = University of California-Irvine Accelerator Mass Spectrometry Laboratory SR = Stafford Research Laboratories

    Tankersley et al. 1998). Clovis artifacts have been found at the site and these dates overlap at one

    sigma with the current, revised age range of Clo vis (11,050 to 10,800 RC yr B.R; Waters and Stafford 2007).

    At Big Bone Lick, Clovis artifacts clearly lie in direct physical association with mastodon bones.

    However, these artifacts are rare and appear to lie in a secondary context among a palimpsest of

    mastodon bone. One AMS radiocarbon date, 11,020 ? 30 14C yr B.R (UCIAMS-35590), obtained on purified collagen from a well-preserved mastodon phalanx that did not exhibit any abrasions but displayed a possible cut mark, clearly overlaps with the current, revised age range of Clovis

    (Waters and Stafford 2007). The information from Hiscock and Big Bone Lick shows that Clovis peo

    ples and the American mastodons were contem

    porary during the late Aller0d and before the start

    of the Younger Dryas. At present, however, there is no direct evidence that these animals were

    hunted, killed, or scavenged by Clovis peoples at

    Big Bone Lick. Consequently, Kimmswick still

    provides the only unequivocal evidence of a Clovis Mastodon interaction.

    Acknowledgments. Fieldwork for this study was made possi ble with funding from the Court Family Foundation, funded

    by John and Georgia Court, and the Charles Phelps Taft

    Foundation. Funding for the recent AMS radiocarbon dating was provided by the North Star Archaeological Research

    Program, funded by Joe and Ruth Cramer. We also want to

    thank Jessi Halligan for preparation of illustrations and

    Laurie Lind for assistance with the bibliography, and the

    anonymous reviewers who greatly improved the manuscript.


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    Received April 23, 2008; Revised N/A; Accepted August 19, 2008.

    Article Contentsp. 558p. 559p. 560p. 561p. 562p. 563p. 564p. 565p. 566p. 567

    Issue Table of ContentsAmerican Antiquity, Vol. 74, No. 3 (Jul., 2009), pp. 403-592Front MatterDaily Practice and the Organization of Space at the Dawn of Agriculture: A Case Study from the near East [pp. 403-422]Paleoindian Aggregation and Social Context at Bull Brook [pp. 423-447]The Enshrined Pueblo: Villagescape and Cosmos in the Northern Rio Grande [pp. 448-466]Cahokia's Boom and Bust in the Context of Climate Change [pp. 467-483]ReportsMetric Data in Archaeology: A Study of Intra-Analyst and Inter-Analyst Variation [pp. 485-504]Measuring Time, Population, and Residential Mobility from the Surface at San Marcos Pueblo, North Central New Mexico [pp. 505-530]Extensive and Long-Term Specialization: Hohokam Ceramic Production in the Phoenix Basin, Arizona [pp. 531-557]Clovis and the American Mastodon at Big Bone Lick, Kentucky [pp. 558-567]

    ReviewsReview: untitled [pp. 568-569]Review: untitled [pp. 569-570]Review: untitled [pp. 570-571]Review: untitled [pp. 572-573]Review: untitled [pp. 573-574]Review: untitled [pp. 574-575]Review: untitled [pp. 575-576]Review: untitled [pp. 576-577]Review: untitled [pp. 577-578]Review: untitled [pp. 578-579]Review: untitled [pp. 579-581]Review: untitled [pp. 582-583]Review: untitled [pp. 583-584]Review: untitled [pp. 584-585]Review: untitled [pp. 585-586]Review: untitled [pp. 587-587]Review: untitled [pp. 588-589]Review: untitled [pp. 589-590]Review: untitled [pp. 590-591]Review: untitled [pp. 591-592]

    Back Matter