TWO-HUNDRED mammoth skeletons have been unearthed by archaeologists in Mexico, with many more still to be excavated.
The Ice Age beasts died thousands of years ago at the shores of an ancient lakebed that both attracted and trapped mammoths in its marshy soil.
Scientists hope the site north of Mexico city, dubbed “mammoth central”, will shed light on what led the animals to extinction.
Finds are still being made at the airport construction site, including signs that humans may have made tools from the bones of the lumbering beasts.
It’s thought the creatures died somewhere between 10,000 and 20,000 years ago.
There are so many mammoths at the site of the new Santa Lucia airport that observers have to accompany each bulldozer that digs into the soil to make sure work is halted when mammoth bones are uncovered.
“We have about 200 mammoths, about 25 camels, five horses,” said archaeologist Dr Rubén Manzanilla López of the National Institute of Anthropology and History.
The site is only about 12 miles (20 km) from shallow mammoth traps that were dug by early inhabitants to trap and kill dozens of mammoths.
Dr Manzanilla López suggested that even if the mammoths at the airport possibly died natural deaths after becoming stuck in the mud of the ancient lake bed, their remains may have been carved up by humans.
Bones altered in a similar manner were found at the mammoth-trap site in the hamlet of San Antonio Xahuento, in the nearby township of Tultepec.
Tests are still being carried out on the mammoth bones to try to find possible butchering marks.
Archaeologists have found dozens of mammoth-bone tools at the site – usually shafts used to hold tools or cutting implements like the ones in Tultepec.
“Here we have found evidence that we have the same kind of tools,” Dr Manzanilla López said.
“But until we can do the laboratory studies to see marks of these tools or possible tools, we can’t say we have evidence that is well-founded.”
Paleontologist Joaquin Arroyo Cabrales said the airport site will be a very important site to test hypotheses about the mass extinction of mammoths.
“What caused these animals’ extinction, everywhere there is a debate, whether its was climate change or the presence of humans,” Arroyo Cabrales said.
“I think in the end the decision will be that there was a synergy effect between climate change and human presence.”
Ashley Leger, a palaeontologist at the California-based Cogstone Resource Management company who was not involved in the dig, noted that such natural death groupings are rare.
A very specific set of conditions that allow for a collection of remains in an area but also be preserved as fossils must be met.
There needs to be a means for them to be buried rapidly and experience low oxygen levels.
The site near Mexico City now appears to have outstripped the Mammoth Site at Hot Springs South Dakota which has about 61 sets of remains as the world’s largest find of mammoth bones.
Large concentrations have also been found in Siberia and at Los Angeles’ La Brea tar pits.
For now, the mammoths seem to be everywhere at the site and the finds may slow down, but not stop, work on the new airport.
Mexican Army Capt. Jesus Cantoral, who oversees efforts to preserve remains at the army-led constructio site, said a large number of excavation sites are still pending detailed study.
Observers have to accompany backhoes and buldozers every time they break ground at a new spot.
The project is so huge, he noted, that the machines can just go work somewhere else while archaeologists study an area.
The airport project is scheduled for completion in 2022, at which point the dig will end.
In other archaeology news, the T-rex may have weighed half of previous estimates.
An interactive map can show you where your home was on Earth 750 million years ago.
And, a huge fortress dating back to the 12th-century BC has been unearthed in Israel and experts are linking it to a structure described in the Bible.
What do you think of the mammoth discovery? Let us know in the comments…
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