PUBLISHED JUNE 23, 2011

It’s one of the most significant pieces of prehistoric art ever found in North America — a carving of a mammoth or mastodon on a piece of fossilized bone dating back to the Ice Age. An amateur fossil hunter found it several years ago in Vero Beach, Florida. Now, after three years of study, a team of researchers say they believe it’s authentic.

Historic Find Sat In Box Under Sink

James Kennedy is quick to tell you, he doesn’t know all that much about archaeology — or prehistoric art. “I mean I’m not a scientist. I just go out and dig up bones…I’m good at finding them. That’s one thing I do do, buddy,” he says with a laugh.

Kennedy is 41, with sandy blond hair and a goatee. Around his neck, he wears a large prehistoric shark tooth. At his house in Vero Beach, boxes of fossils are everywhere.

Amateur collector James Kennedy with some of the fossils he’s collected in Florida. Kennedy found the carved bone four or five years ago, but didn’t notice the carving until a few years later when he cleaned it.

Mammoths and mastodons were abundant in Florida until about 13,000 years ago — when they became extinct.

While there are lots of fossilized bones, the one thing never found in the Western hemisphere were any images of these Ice Age elephant ancestors — such as those found in European cave paintings.

That is, UNTIL NOW. In an article published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, researchers from the Smithsonian and the University of Florida say that the depiction of the mastodon or mammoth engraved on a fossilized bone appears to be an authentic piece of art dating back at least 13,000 years.

At Kennedy’s kitchen table, he looks at a picture of the engraved bone. The original is stored in a vault.

For more than two years, it sat in a box under his kitchen sink. He says he picked it up at a site in Vero Beach in 2006 or 2007. He immediately recognized it as a piece of fossilized bone, probably from a mammoth or mastodon — about 15 inches long and four inches high.
He says he didn’t see the engraving on it until a couple of years later, when he was cleaning some of his fossils. On this one, as the dirt came off, a picture emerged.

“First I thought it could be just scrapes and marks on it, but no, there’s no mistaking it. You have a walking mammoth right there. I mean, here’s his tail, his tusk, his trunk, everything’s there,” Kennedy says. “I thought it was really neat, but I thought that there was lots of other stuff like this. I had no idea there was nothing else like that.”

In fact, it’s one of a kind. Although there are stone points and other archaeological evidence suggesting humans lived in North America during the Ice Age, it may be the only piece of art dating back to that period.

Scientists Skeptical At First

Scientists were wary when Kennedy first showed his discovery. Nothing like that had ever been found in the Western Hemisphere before.
Debunked Archaeology

Part of the reason archaeologists are cautious to accept the Florida find is because they’ve been deceived by forged mammoth carvings before.
The pendant is a piece of shell engraved with the image of a mastodon. It was allegedly found in a peat bog in 1864 and was identified as a piece of Paleoindian art. In the 100 years after its discovery, it was displayed worldwide but its authenticity was eventually questioned in the 1970s. Radiocarbon testing dated the pendant to A.D. 885, putting it nowhere near its purported age of 10,000 years old. It is believed that the “discoverer” forged the pendant at the same time a similar, legitimate mammoth carving was found in France.

Source: American Antiquity 53.3

Researchers at the University of Florida conducted extensive testing of the fossilized bone. Rare earth element analysis showed it did come from the Vero Beach area. A scanning electron microscope indicated the carving appeared to be the same age as the bone. Archaeologist Jeff Speakman conducted his own extensive testing and research on the fossil at the Smithsonian. Despite his group’s best efforts, he says they couldn’t find anything to suggest the mammoth engraving is a fake.

“The lines — very clean, well-rounded — did not have any sort of debris field or sharp lines that would indicate any sort of modern forgery,” Speakman says.

Vero Beach A Prehistoric Treasure Trove

Researchers at the University of Florida conducted extensive testing of the fossilized bone. Rare earth element analysis showed it did come from the Vero Beach area. A scanning electron microscope indicated the carving appeared to be the same age as the bone. Archaeologist Jeff Speakman conducted his own extensive testing and research on the fossil at the Smithsonian. Despite his group’s best efforts, he says they couldn’t find anything to suggest the mammoth engraving is a fake.

“The lines — very clean, well-rounded — did not have any sort of debris field or sharp lines that would indicate any sort of modern forgery,” Speakman says.

Vero Beach A Prehistoric Treasure Trove

What would really help convince researchers that the piece of Ice Age art is authentic would be to find other examples.
For archaeologists, this is a well-known spot — the Old Vero Ice Age Site. It was first excavated nearly a hundred years ago. In 1915, Florida’s state geologist documented fossilized human skeletons found alongside remains of Ice Age mammals. The age of those human remains was later disputed by other scientists, and the Old Vero site became known mostly as a spot popular with amateur fossil hunters.

 

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