The skeletons of at least 14 woolly mammoths have been discovered in Mexico, in traps which had been built by humans some 15,000 years ago.
The two pits, both uncovered in Tultepec, just north of Mexico City, are the first mammoth traps to be discovered.
It’s believed hunters may have used torches and branches to herd the large, elephant-sized creatures into the traps.
More than 800 bones have been found, which could lead to a change in what we understand of how early humans managed to successfully hunt the mammoths, BBC News reports.
According to the country’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH), more traps could soon be discovered around the same area.
Previously archaeologists believed humans only killed mammoths if the animals were already trapped or hurt. However, INAH’s new discovery of these human built traps could prove these hunts were in fact planned.
Diego Prieto Hernández, director of the institute, said the discovery ‘represents a watershed, a turning point in what we until now imagined to be the interaction between hunter-gatherers with these huge herbivores.’
Both of the pits are around 1.7 metres deep and 25 metres in diameter. Excavations at the site have been taking place for 10 months to discover their extent.
The last woolly mammoths are believed to have died of thirst, while living on a remote island off the coast of Alaska some 5,600 years ago. However, the majority of the world’s mammoth population is believed to have died out around 10,500 years ago.
Human hunting and environmental changes were chalked as the main causes behind their extinction – an idea which these traps would most likely support.
According to a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the last group living on St Paul Island, faced very different problems. As Earth warmed up after the Ice Age, sea levels rose, which caused the island they called home to shrink in size. As a result, some of its lakes were lost to the ocean and salt water flowed into remaining reservoirs, diminishing access to freshwater.
Lead author Prof Russell Graham, from Pennsylvania State University, penned in the study:
As the other lakes dried up, the animals congregated around the water holes.
They were milling around, which would destroy the vegetation – we see this with modern elephants.
And this allows for the erosion of sediments to go into the lake, which is creating less and less fresh water.
The mammoths were contributing to their own demise.
These traps are just the beginning in learning about how our predecessors hunted the giant creatures.
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Emma Rosemurgey is an NCTJ trained Journalist who started her career by producing The Royal Rosemurgey newspaper in 2004, which kept her family up to date with the goings on of her sleepy north east village. She graduated from the University of Central Lancashire in Preston and started her career in regional newspapers before joining Tyla (formerly Pretty 52) in 2017, and progressing onto UNILAD in 2019.