New Journal Article Concludes Cerutti Mastodon Bones Broken Recently by Construction Equipment, Not Hunters 130,000 Years Ago
Patrick M. Ferrell, described as an independent scholar and self-identified as a land surveyor, read the Nature article with disbelief and then did what the authors of that piece—and, to be fair, most of their critics—failed to do. He obtained construction plans and a right-of-way map from San Diego Caltrans District 11 headquarters and correlated road construction with the reported location of the Cerutti Mastodon.
Ferrell reviewed freeway construction plans and the techniques used to construct the freeway, which was being built when the bones were uncovered. He discovered that 20 years before, grading had occurred at the site in preparation for road work, which churned up and altered some of the cobble stones at the site. While the construction work did not directly break the mammoth bones by crushing them from above, Ferrell contends that known construction methods would produce the damage seen:
This author contends that the raking of the steel teeth on the excavator bucket across the CM site dragged the cobbles identified as anvils and hammer stones onto the site from the north, and could also account for the fragmentation of some of those cobbles, and the molar which was broken into three parts found in grid units C1, D2, and E3.
He adds that the same action likely caught the mastodon tusk in its wake, dragging it and causing it to fragment. The rest of the observed damage, he said, was due to the 5,000-pound weight of dirt dumped on top of the bones during construction work and the vibrations and pressures of large dump trucks traveling across and over the site. He notes that heavy vehicles routinely destroy asphalt roads with their weight and suggests that similar processes could damage fossils as well. He estimates that heavy trucks passed over the bones designated CM281 between 150 and 250 times during construction before the bones were discovered:
Taken as a whole, this evidence seems to indicate that CM281 was recently forced into concentration 1 by the tires of the dump trucks crossing the CM site, which concentrated the weight of the trucks on the stone, thus breaking and scattering the bones there, and pulverizing their brittle pedogenic carbonate crusts.
In support of this view, Ferrell offers that the bones are not crushed consistent with how modern or ancient people butchered bones for food and instead resemble accidental crushing by a heavy weight.
Ferrell’s conclusions are not definitive, and he himself states that they rely to an extent on circumstantial evidence. However, I agree with him that he has provided a more plausible explanation for the damaged mastodon bones that better fits the observed facts.
I am eager to see how this new material will impact the argument in America Before. I received a review copy of the book yesterday, and I will be reading the book carefully to write a review for Skeptic magazine, timed to the book’s April 23 release in the U.S. (The book launches on April 2 in the U.K.) Because the book is massive—more than 500 dense pages—I will be running a reduced blogging schedule for the next couple of weeks with shorter posts and some days I will be taking off in order to have time to read and review the book thoroughly.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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