Last year, archaeologists discovered huge earthen pits dug by humans some 15,000 years ago in an area just north of Mexico City. Inside those pits were the remains of more than a dozen mammoths, some of which showed signs of being butchered. This discovery led researchers to hypothesize that these pits were in fact traps laid by human ancestors to capture huge, prehistoric prey, reported the Associated Press in 2019.
Now, another mammoth graveyard has been found just six miles away, though archaeologists so far see no signs of human involvement in the demise of the roughly 60 mammoths that have been unearthed, reports Mark Stevenson for the Associated Press.
The glut of mammoth bones are spread across three sites, reports Christine Hauser for the New York Times. One of the sites is situated at what was once the muddy shoreline of an ancient lake called Xaltocan that has long since dried up.
Archaeologist Pedro Francisco Sánchez Nava of the INAH says in the statement that the mammoth skeletons found on the former shoreline of Xaltocan were better preserved than those excavated from what would have been the lake’s deeper waters. The shoreline contingent, which included adult males as well as females and their offspring, may have gotten stuck in the mud of the shallows after being lured in by its lush reeds and grasses, Sánchez Nava tells the AP. Mammoths could mow down roughly 330 pounds of greenery every day, and Xaltocan would have been “like paradise for them,” Sánchez Nava tells the AP.
So far, researchers have found no signs of the animals having been butchered by humans, but, per the statement, Sánchez Nava says the possibility that humans took advantage of the heavy animals once they got stuck in the mud has not been ruled out.
Going a step further, Sánchez Nava tells the AP that ancient human hunters might have used the lake muck to their advantage. “It’s possible they may have chased them into the mud,” he tells the AP, adding that “they (ancient humans) had a very structured and organized division of labor” for obtaining mammoth meat.
The discovery has the potential to reshape how frequently our ancestors dined on the now-extinct pachyderms. “They used to think it was very chance, sporadic,” Sánchez Nava tells the AP. “In fact, it may have been part of their daily diet.”
The vast majority of mammoths went extinct around 10,000 years ago at the end of the last ice age, but a population in the hundreds managed to eke out an existence on Wrangel Island off the coast of Russia until around 4,000 years ago.
The dig in Mexico began in October, and all signs seem to point to the final tally of mammoth remains continuing to grow.
“There are too many, there are hundreds,” Sánchez Nava tells the AP.
With the current count at 60, the excavation has so far produced around 10 mammoths a month, which Sánchez Nava tells the AP may continue. The dig is scheduled to end in 2022, when the airport’s construction is expected to finish.