The fourth article in The Lost History of Ancient America is titled ‘Eyewitness Engraving of Ancient American Mammoths’ written by Frank Joseph.
It appears at first to be a puzzling article choice, as it seems to have nothing to do with transoceanic travelers or providing evidence of Europeans in America before Columbus. Joseph spends a good deal of the article filling it with ad hominem attacks, emotional appeals, and a strange Internet argument he had with a skeptic on Wikipedia.
The apparent main argument of the article is that woolly mammoths were either still alive at the time of Paleo-Indians, or later descendant tribes preserved ancestral memories of woolly mammoths and made carvings of them that have lasted to modern-day. The articles kinda flip-flops between these two arguments never really settling on either. It also doesn’t try to outright explain what this has to do with cultural diffusion or transoceanic travelers, the reader is expected to already understand the connection. Joseph does use some academic sources and footnotes to cite with, and it’s these sources that show how these ‘mammoth’ images link to transoceanic travelers.
For a bit of background, The woolly mammoth died out in the Americas roughly 13,000 years ago. This was roughly 1,000 years after the first appearance of humans on the continent. It also corresponds with the extinction of a lot of the megafauna in the Americas, as we’ve discussed before. Does this mean humans killed off the woolly mammoth, or was it climate change? We’re still not 100% sure, but I’m willing to bet it was a little of both.
That said, there is known overlap of humans and mammoths in the Americas. One major site demonstrating this is the very site Joseph opens with, the Old Vero Site. There, hundreds of human and megafauna bones, including mammoth bones, have been found in association to each other.
Joseph mentions one of the more accepted finds, made by fossil hunter James Kennedy sometime in 2007. He reportedly found a bone fragment that had an incised image of what appears to be a mammoth on it (Rawls 2009). This find has been tested by a variety of methods, and though none are completely conclusive, it is relatively accepted that the Vero Bone is both authentic and roughly about 13,000 years old. This puts it squarely inside a known time period of human and mammoth coexistence.
Joseph references an article written by Randolph E. Schmid, and spends the better part of his own article repeating everything Schmid wrote. This is a repeated tactic that is noticeable in the other articles in Lost History, where an entire entry in the volume is really just a book report of an article written somewhere else. Usually an internet source, or some small, unverified publication.
However, it’s in Schmid’s article from the Huffington Post (2011) that makes the link between Joseph’s article and the overall topic of this section.
“The newly found North American image is similar to some found in Europe, raising the question of whether this is merely coincidence or evidence of some connection between the two, the paper noted.
Stout said the suggestion that the similarities between this and ancient European art might imply some cultural contact or movement of people across the Atlantic very early is controversial. That idea has previously been proposed by Stanford and others, but has attracted a lot of criticism and skepticism from other archaeologists, he said.” (Schmid 2011)
So the implication here, that we really had to dig to find, is that since the mammoth images in America look like those in some European sites, that is evidence of transoceanic travel and cultural diffusion. This claim took some digging, and it’s part of a larger trend from the book. There is a conversation going on among the fringe, and this book is like eavesdropping in random moments. There is a nuance that is lost on the causal observer when reading this book. Often the reader is expected to understand what is being said with no attempt to explain.
After presenting us with an actual artifact that already fits nicely into the understood archaeological timeline, Joseph tries to present us with further evidence. If his stated argument for this article is to convince us that humans and mammoths existed at the same time, he’s already done so. If his actual argument is to convince us that mammoth images are the result of transoceanic cultural diffusion, his examples leave a lot to desire.
Joseph presents us with five more examples of mammoth images, some more credible than others. First is the Holly Oak artifact.
Very briefly, the Holly Oak artifact follows along a familiar storyline that we here at this blog recognize as evidence of a non-artifact.
Hilborne T. Cresson, an archaeological assistant at Harvard’s Peabody Museum, presented what would become the Holly Oak artifact in 1889. He claimed to have found the engraved shell pendant some 25 years earlier while out for a walk with his then music teacher. Said music teacher was himself a student of archaeology who had studied directly under Eduard Lartet, the archaeologist credited with finding an engraved mammoth tusk at La Madeleine, France in 1864. The images on the tusk and the pendant were strongly reminiscent of each other, and due to this and the dubious discovery story, the pendant wasn’t widely accepted as an authentic artifact.
This would have been the end of it but for a revival of the artifact in 1976, when J.C. Kraft and R.A. Thomas published a paper in Science arguing that the pendant was genuine. This new announcement was quickly challenged (Meltzer and Sturtevant 1985, Lewin 1988, Griffen et al 1988) and more reasons for the artifact to be fraudulent were brought forward. A few reasons being that the orientation of the image on the pendant in relation to the boreholes was inconsistent with other known examples and the radiocarbon analysis of the shell placed it around 885 CE. much too late to be old enough to be authentic (Meltzer and Sturtevant 1985).
As it stands today, the Holly Oak artifact is not seen as an authentic artifact.
Joseph then offers up the Lenape Stone.
Ken Feder covers the Lenape stone, another gorget style pendant, fairly well in his 2011 book Encyclopedia of Dubious Archaeology: From Atlantis to the Walam Olum. He points out that Mammoths probably went extinct in North America about 10,000 years ago, while most gorgets, like the Lenape stone found in other sites are less than 2,000 years old. Beyond that, the discovery of the stone is suspect. There is no proper documentation, other artifact of a similar style were found on the site, the stone was supposedly cleaned harshly rendering any testing impossible, lastly is the carving on the stone itself (Feder 2011). The Lenape stone was discovered in two pieces, and these two pieces appear to have been carved separately and do not line up (Feder 2011). It’s most likely that the stone was carved after it was broken and was carved in a way as to mimic the other actual artifacts found in the area.
Joseph offers up a suggestion that the stone used to make the gorget might have been selected because of the mammoth carving already being on it (Joseph 2017). This suggestion ignores that the actual artifacts that present a similar style only date to 2,000 years ago or that the carving doesn’t line up.
Joseph tries to use the tired old trope of “A simple farm boy would not have been capable of perpetrating a hoax (Joseph 2017)”. It’s a paradox that the fringe sets up for themselves. The claim that no simple man could do such a fraud is counter to the unspoken fringe idea that the common man can do complicated archeology and analysis.
Needless to say, the Lenape stone is not an accepted authentic artifact.
Joseph then offers up the Jacob’s Cavern Bone.
Joseph offers up a 1952 article by Ludwell H. Johnson published in The Scientific Monthy called “Men and Elephants in America”. What little I can get of the article (it’s behind a paywall) seems to show Johnson in favor of the Jacob’s Cavern Bone being authentic. Joseph even uses a lengthy quote from Johnson’s paper, which taken out of context, appears to show that Johnson is arguing for the age of the deer bone to be around the age of 14,000 years (Joseph 2017). What can’t be clear at this point is if Johnson went on to argue that the bone and the carving are both related and authentic.
It’s important to note here, that even though the bone itself might be 14,000 years old, that has no bearing on the age of the carving. No explanation of the age of the carving is offered by Joseph either.
Michael Fuller, professor emeritus of anthropology, brings up this point as well (Fuller 2007), making a note that the image typically interpreted as a mastodon doesn’t fit known examples of such from other Paleo-Indian and Archaic sites in Missouri (Fuller 2007). Honestly, the carving looks like many things, the least of which is a mastodon or mammoth. I am inclined to agree with Fuller, and a great many others, that though the bone itself is old, the carving is not. The Jacob’s Cavern Bone is not a viable artifact.
Joseph then bring up the Moab Mammoth petroglyph, particularly one that does look a lot like some kind of long nosed beast.
This petroglyph is real, can be seen by anyone who hikes out to Utah, and isn’t disputed by anyone as being an authentic image. Whether or not it’s a Mammoth is another thing, probably it’s not. I say this because it’s a whimsical image, with an undefined body, long trunk, and four distinct toes on each foot, but Mammoth’s were not known to be in Utah.
This is image #2 that is authentic that Joseph has mentioned. Two out of six.
The final bit of evidence that Joseph offers up is the Lake Michigan Sunken Petroglyph, aka, Lake Michigan Stonehenge. It’s also referred to as a variety of other things, depending on who’s looking at it. Lake Michigan has been accused of hiding everything from sunken pyramids to Masonic symbols. Needless to say there is no actual evidence supporting any of these claims, and so this is not reliable.
Joseph makes an effort to use various Native American myths to support his idea of ancestral memory. This is a murky area to wander into at best. Oral histories can be filled with historical retellings, exaggerated facts, or just plain ‘ol entertaining stories. As an outsider, it’s difficult to impossible to discern one from the next. When anthropologists interact with a native culture and their oral traditions, we try not to interpret what we are told. We accept the information given to us and leave the interpretation to the culture that created it. Taking oral traditions out of context can create a slew of issues, much like removing an artifact from it’s context. Doing what Joseph does in his article is one such issue.
Joseph tries to reinterpret the various myths he has cherry picked to be proof of an ancestral memory of Mammoths. These cannot be convincing evidence as they are basically appropriation of native American oral traditions to try to prove a fringe theory.
Once we do a bit of digging we find the connection between this article and the theme of section one.
Joseph is making the argument that since the mammoth images in America look like those in some European sites, that is evidence of transoceanic travel and cultural diffusion. He does this by obfuscating it in the twin theories that man coexisted at the same time as Mammoths (we already known this to be true) and that younger images of Mammoths were made due to reverence of ancestral memory.
The article tries but falls short of proving either the major argument or the later theory because the evidence offered is made up mostly of fake artifacts. Of the six presented, two are accepted as real, the rest have either been debunked or are not accepted as authentic.
This article is the last in section one, and like the others, provides little reason to believe the argument that the Americas were visited by Pre-columbian transoceanic travelers.
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Feder, Kenneth L.
2011 Encyclopedia of Dubious Archaeology: From Atlantis to the Walam Olum. ABC-CLIO/Greenwood. p. 159.
2007 Jacob’s Cavern , 23MD149. Webpage prepared by Professor Michael Fuller, 2 October 2007 http://users.stlcc.edu/mfuller/jacob’scavern.html. Retrived 1/30/17
Griffin, James B. , David J. Meltzer, Bruce D. Smith and William C. Sturtevant.
1988 A Mammoth Fraud in Science. American Antiquity. Vol. 53, No. 3 (Jul., 1988), pp. 578-582 Published by: Society for American Archaeology DOI: 10.2307/281218. Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/281218 https://www.jstor.org/stable/281218. Retrived 1/30/17
Johnson, Ludwell H.
1952 Men and Elephants in America. The Scientific Monthly Vol. 75, No. 4 (Oct., 1952), pp. 215-221 Published by: American Association for the Advancement of Science Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/20754 https://www.jstor.org/stable/20754?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents Retrived 1/30/17
Kraft, J.C. & R.A. Thomas.
1976 “Early Man at Holly Oak, Delaware”. Science 192(4241): 756-761. (May 21, 1976). http://science.sciencemag.org/content/192/4241/756 DOI: 10.1126/science.192.4241.756 Retrived 1/30/17
1988 “Mammoth Fraud Exposed”. Science vol 242(issue 4883): pg 1246. (Dec 2., 1988). http://science.sciencemag.org/content/242/4883/1246 DOI: 10.1126/science.242.4883.1246 Retrived 1/30/17
Meltzer, D.J. & W.C. Sturtevant.
1985 “The Holly Oak Pendant.” Science 227(4684): 242 + 244 + 246. (Jan 18, 1985). http://science.sciencemag.org/content/227/4684/242 DOI: 10.1126/science.227.4684.242 Retrived 1/30/17
Schmid, Randolph E.
2011 13,000-Year-Old Bone With Mammoth Or Mastodon Carving May Be First In Western Hemisphere 06/22/2011 12:20 pm ET | Updated Aug 22, 2011 AP/The Huffington Post. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/06/22/mammoth-mastodon-bone-carving-florida-photo_n_882177.html. Retrived 1/30/17