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Ancient Camels Butchered in Colorado, Stone Tools Show?

Christine Dell'Amore
National Geographic News
February 27, 2009
 
Humans may have hunted down Ice Age camels 13,000 years ago on what are now the streets of Boulder, Colorado, a new analysis of ancient tools suggests.

Blood residue on stone blades found recently in a Boulder resident's backyard could be the first evidence that the implements were used to butcher horses and American camels.

The extinct camel species had almost no hump and was slightly taller than a modern camel, with a shoulder height of seven feet (about two meters).

The tools are thought to be products of the Clovis people, early Americans known for their distinctive spearheads.

(Related: "Fossil Feces Is Earliest Evidence of N. America Humans.")

"The really amazing thing about this kind of find is [that] it represents an instant in time," said research leader Douglas Bamforth, an anthropologist at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

More than likely, one or two humans buried the artifacts on the banks of an ancient stream with the intention of coming back later to collect them.

Shared Craftsmanship

The stash, found accidentally in May 2008 by a landscaping crew, contained 83 stone tools ranging from well-crafted knives to small blades and axes.

Only a handful of such caches have ever been found, and the discovery may give researchers clues as to how the mysterious Clovis people lived.

For instance, close similarities between one two-sided tool found in the Boulder site and another from Wyoming suggests that craftmanship was shared between groups.

It also suggests that the Clovis journeyed vast distances, forging relationships along the way, said Bamforth, who presented his unpublished research at a recent meeting.

A "reasonable guess" is that the Clovis carried supplies of high-quality stone through game-rich but stone-poor regions where the material would be needed to make new tools, said Bruce Huckell, senior research coordinator at the University of New Mexico's Maxwell Museum of Anthropology.

The American camel, which went extinct at the end of the last ice age, roamed alongside many giant beasts—including woolly mammoths, dire wolves, sabertooths, and giant ground sloths.

But when asked about the tools' use in butchering camels, Huckell said blood residue tests can be controversial.

"Certainly it's exciting to see reports that indicate that a part-stone tool was used to butcher a particular animal in the remote past," Huckell said.

"[But it's] not a method that has met with universal acceptance among archaeologists."
 

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