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Human Paleoecology in the Western Great Lakes

With National Science Foundation support Dr. David Overstreet will coordinate the analysis of the skeletal remains of two woolly mammoths excavated from the Hebior and Schaefer sites, located in southeastern Wisconsin. At the start of the last glacial retreat, the region contained many small ponds and lakes surrounded by encroaching wetlands. They eventually were infilled by peats and mucks which afford excellent preservation of faunal remains. The two mammoths discovered in this context both date by radiocarbon to slightly older than 12,000 years ago and this may provide possibly the oldest evidence of humans in North America. Several worked pieces of stone were found in possible association with each specimen and this suggests, but does not prove humans were present at that time. To reach a more definitive conclusion, Dr. Eileen Johnson will conduct a careful taphonomic analysis of both skeletons. This will include identification and mapping of various marks on the bone, and examination of the condition of the cortical surface and patterns of breakage. Dr. Johnson's methodology will incorporate gross morphology, low and high power magnification and selected samples for scanning electron microscopy. These analyses will generate sufficient empirical evidence to evaluate relative roles of predation and/or scavenging, carcass utilization patterns, bone resource utilization and the effects of natural forces which also can alter bone. In addition a further suite of materials will be subjected to radiocarbon analysis. The strongest evidence for early humans in North America comes from numerous sites in the Southwestern United States. Worked stone tools are clearly associated with animal remains and all date to younger than 12,000 years. All are associated with a stone tool tradition known as `Clovis` after the site where it was first identified. Clovis is characterized by finely worked spear points and has been widely viewed as the earliest lithic tradition in North America. The few stone implements which have been recovered in possible association with the Wisconsin mammoths, according to Dr. Overstreet, do not appear to be Clovis. The materials then are of particular interest both because of their age and the fact that they may represent an unknown cultural group. If successful this research may set the stage for a large scale project.

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