We Tried Getting DNA from La Brea Mammoths but Couldn’t

Asphalt is not good for Mammoth DNA.

Science Abstracts

Too many scientists are reluctant to publish negative results and there is no reason why they should feel this way. Knowing what doesn’t work is just as important as knowing what works.



Attempted DNA extraction from a Rancho La Brea Columbian mammoth (Mammuthus columbi): prospects for ancient DNA from asphalt deposits

Fossil-bearing asphalt deposits are an understudied and potentially significant source of ancient DNA. Previous attempts to extract DNA from skeletons preserved at the Rancho La Brea tar pits in Los Angeles, California, have proven unsuccessful, but it is unclear whether this is due to a lack of endogenous DNA, or if the problem is caused by asphalt-mediated inhibition. In an attempt to test these hypotheses, a recently recovered Columbian mammoth (Mammuthus columbi) skeleton with an unusual pattern of asphalt impregnation was studied. Ultimately, none of the bone samples tested successfully amplified M. columbi DNA. Our…

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Platypuses Go Mega


There’s no fauna like megafauna. Australian paleontologists have identified an extinct giant platypus that lived over 5 million years ago from a single fossil tooth. But wait, you say, platypi don’t have teeth, they have a duckbill. Well, that’s evolution: juvenile modern platypuses do have teeth, which they lose as they grow up. The newly identified fossil tooth is much larger and indicates the extinct platypus, Obdurodon tharalkooschild may have been more carnivorous. Hence some hyperbole in the Australian:

“Everything else would have thought twice about going for a swim with this platypus-zilla” (from one of the co-authors), and the headline, “Giant platypus a ‘fearsome’ predator”, which apparently has now been improved to “Ancient platypus was big and bitey.”

See also Science Daily for the press release and picture.

Picture Source: Reconstruction / Illustration by Peter Schouten.

Cervalces in Iowa

There’s no extinct cervid we love more than Cervalces, so it’s always a pleasure to see an article about the stag-moose.

Matthew Hill has identified countless bones found by farmers, fishermen, rock hounds and heavy equipment operators. Most of the remains turn out to be deer, bison, horse or cow bones, or simply odd looking rocks. But some discoveries turn out to be highly unusual, as was the case with an antler from an extinct Ice Age animal known as a stag-moose or elk-moose.

From Science Dailyhttp://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/09/130919121906.htm

Waco Mammoths want to be a National Monument

Researchers believe at least 19 Columbian mammoths were drowned by a flash flood about 65,000 years ago. Now, a petition has been started to have the site declared a National Monument. Here’s the text of the petition:

Add the Waco Mammoth Site to the National Park Service as a national monument by executive order.

Located in Waco, Texas, the Waco Mammoth Site provides a rare glimpse into the natural history of the southwest United States. It is one of the few sites where visitors can view the fossil remains of Ice Age animals lying where they died up to 70,000 years ago. Including the site as a national monument would further enhance the value of this experience.

The site already has a state-of-the-art shelter and welcome center furnished by the community of Waco and Baylor University. National monument status would allow it to add classrooms, labs, and exhibit spaces, as well as resume excavation.

The National Park Service supports adding the Waco Mammoth Site as a national monument, but Congress has twice failed to act on the matter. Therefore, an executive order is needed.

They’ve got a long way to go, but If you’re interested, sign the petition at the White House site. See the Waco Mammoth site here.

Cut Marks on the Firelands Ground Sloth

Ground Sloth Femur. Source: Cleveland Museum of Natural History

The role of humans in the extinction of megafauna, including mammoths, mastodons, and ground sloth, at the end of the Pleistocene is one of the more contentious issues in Paleo-Indian studies. Brian Redman, of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, and his colleagues report the first direct evidence of human-made stone tool cut marks on a Jefferson’s ground sloth (Megalonyx jeffersonii) bone. If the identification of the cut marks is correct, it indicates that humans likely hunted ground sloths.
Ten ground sloth bones were excavated from a swamp in Norwich Township, Ohio in the early twentieth century and were curated at the Firelands Historical Society Museum in Norwalk, Ohio. It was not until recently that researchers at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History reexamined the bones and identified possible stone tool cut marks on one of the bones, a femur. More in-depth research ensued.

The researchers first nailed down the context of the finds. Labels associated with the bones and brief mention of what appeared to be the same finds in early twentieth century paleontological reports by Oliver Hay indicated that a college student named Roe Niver discovered the specimens in a bog on his family’s property in Ohio. The researchers were able to relocate the small bog from which the bones were likely excavated.

They identified 41 individual tool marks using 15x to 100x magnification and, for a smaller sample, scanning electron microscopy, all of which are on the anterior side of a femur. None of the nine other ground sloth bones have any possible tool marks. Based on the morphology of the marks, they infer that most of the marks were made by humans using unmodified stone flakes or blades to remove meat from the leg bone. Unifacial and bifacial retouched stone tools were used to make some of the cut marks, indicating more than one tool was used on the ground sloth.
Botanical material found within the ungual sheaths of two of the bones contained fragments of conifer wood, possibly from spruce, Douglas fir, or tamarack. These tree species are consistent with the inferred environment at the end of the Pleistocene. The ground sloth bones date to 11,740 +/- 35 years before present (calibrated range of 13,738-13,435 years BP) based on an AMS radiocarbon date from one of the bones. They therefore are the “most ancient possible evidence of human activity in Ohio” (Redmond et al. 2012:94). This date is also slightly earlier than the current age range of the Clovis culture.

Cut marks or other direct evidence for human predation on most species of extinct megafauna in the Americas is surprisingly scarce. A few examples of predation on a different species of ground sloth in South America have been reported, but the Ohio example reported in this article is the first good evidence that humans preyed on Jefferson’s ground sloth. It is a small but important contribution to the larger question of whether human predation was a major factor in the extinction of the megafauna.

Brian G. Redmond, H Gregory McDonald, Haskel J. Greenfield, Matthew L. Burr. New evidence for Late Pleistocene human exploitation of Jefferson’s Ground Sloth (Megalonyx jeffersonii) from northern Ohio, USA. World Archaeology, 2012; 44 (1): 75-101.