Update on the Vero Beach Story

The other day I mentioned the Vero Beach skeletal material. the story has gotten more interesting since.

Vero Beach 32963 has an interesting story about a bone with the etching of a mammoth or mastadon on it:

The brown, mineral-hardened bone bearing the unique carving is a foot-long fragment from a larger bone that belonged to an extinct “mammoth, mastodon or ground sloth” according to Dr. Richard C. Hulbert, a vertebrate paleontologist at the Florida Museum of Natural History museum. These animals have been extinct in Florida for at least 10,000 years.

Etched into the bone by a highly sharpened stone tool or the tooth of the animal is the clear image of a walking adult mammoth or mastodon. Extensive tests over the past two months have shown that the image was created when the bone was fresh, presumably right after the animal it belonged to was killed or died.

Here is more of the story:

The bone, currently housed in a vault locally, first went to Barbara Purdy in early April. Even specialists can be fooled, but to her eyes, it looked quite real. “The thing that struck me at the beginning was, unlike forgeries generally, the image is not deep,” Purdy says. “It could easily be missed. It looked naturally worn, the way a coin does that has been handled a great deal, the image beginning to fade.”

Dr. Michael Warren, forensic anthropologist and director of the C.A. Pound Human Identification Laboratory at the University of Florida, has studied the incisions that form the image and the surface of the bone, and has found both to be “ancient.”

In May, Dr. Kevin Jones, the chairperson of the Material Science and Engineering Department at the University of Florida, as well as two other scientists working with him there, also examined the carving.

Using a method called energy dispersive X-Ray spectroscopy and a scanning electron microscope, they were able to study the object in tremendous detail. All three scientists concluded that both the carving and the bone’s surface were the same age, with no evidence of recent tampering.

Follow the link to read the rest – it is a long and interesting article. Assuming the find is genuine, and based on the above I don’t see any reason to doubt it, this is a pretty interesting find and makes me wonder about other portable art in the western hemisphere. I have a hard time believing that this is the only item of this type ever carved in the America’s…

9 Responses

  1. Kennedy immediately called an old friend, Vero attorney Gene Roddenberry. A member of the Historical Society, Roddenberry had helped James with other finds the younger man had made over the years. A large mammoth tooth he found in the main canal as a teenager was donated to the city museum, and other large bones had been donated to the University of Florida.

    Wait. What will the trekkies do when they find out Gene Roddenberry faked his death and went into law?
    Isn’t that more important than some early human drawing a picture of a fantasy feast?

  2. “Never before in the Western Hemisphere, has there been a bone from an extinct species incised with a recognizable picture of an animal,”

    I was a little surprised to read this bit. I guess it shows how quickly the Western Hemisphere Pleistocene megafauna went extinct?

  3. My first impulse is to chalk it up to preservation, but there are a number of sites in the southwest and places like Utah and even in the Ozarks that preserve sandals, bags, bowls, etc, that were from plant material. Portability is also an issue for hunter-gatherers. Extinction, of course is also an issue. I’m still thinking it out…

  4. Nooooooo! Gene, how could you?

  5. This story gives me the willies. I’m not finding a single reference to it anywhere online that doesn’t trace to Sandra Rawls.

    A find like this has major implications, and one would think that it would have been announced with rather more fanfare than on a local website.

    I’m not seeing a press release from the University of Florida, the Indian River Historical Society to which the aforesaid Gene Roddenberry supposedly belongs, or even the nearest big newspaper or TV station.

    The style of the carving is very sophisticated, even more so than presumably contemporary Magdalenian carvings from Europe.

    I’m honestly wondering whether this isn’t something cooked up to draw attention to the Vero Man remains so shamefully lost by being shuttled back and forth between the Smithsonian and Florida State University during a fight over their authenticity. Sadly, this happened just before the invention of Carbon-14 dating, which would have done so much to show that the Vero Beach site was inhabited before the Wisconsin glaciation.

  6. which would have done so much to show that the Vero Beach site was inhabited before the Wisconsin glaciation.

    Since the Wisconsin Glaciation had a peak at about 70,000 years ago, this is unlikely.

  7. Dr Purdy is a fine person with impeccable integrity.If she is publically involved you can bet this is the real deal.

  8. Via National Geographic:

    John Gifford, an underwater archaeologist at the University of Miami, has studied Ice Age peoples in Florida.

    Gifford has not examined the newfound artifact, “so the only comment I can make is that I am very, very skeptical and look forward to reading the first article about this discovery in a journal [that has been reviewed by several scientists],” he said by email.

    But it is “certainly possible” that such an artwork could be found, added Gifford, who has received funding from the National Geographic Society’s Committee for Research and Exploration. (National Geographic News is owned by the National Geographic Society.)

  9. The Vero Beach bone site yielded two “engraved” items in the 1913-16 era. Here is an email I wrote to Archaeology magazine, slightly edited because I got a copy of a Florida State Geological Survey Number 8. This was for information only, I am not interested in a discussion of the validity of Dr. Sellards’ find. I offer the information as a means of comparing the new find with an old find, if that old find is still available. I should add that Palm Beach Museum of Natural History listed an item “Author E. H. Sellards, An Engraved Mammoth Tusk from Vero Beach”, on page 105 of the Florida Anthropologist, for March-June 1983. Dr. Sellars died in 1961.

    1. I have found a reference to another piece of “tusk” which Dr. E. H. Sellards dug up in 1916 or so.
    This is from the same site as the now-famous piece of fossilized bone with the inscribed mammoth or other extinct beast.

    Mentioned in Arts of the world, By Edwin Swift Balch, Eugenia Hargous Macfarlane Balch, 1920, page 255ff

    This publication is available on-line at http://books.google.com/books?id=8KENAAAAYAAJ&dq=arts++of+the+world+Edwin+Swift+Balch,+Eugenia+Hargous+Macfarlane+Balch&printsec=frontcover&source=bl&ots=Ziuapc5eYs&sig=7pmVdVdu9ScoP5YjchopOoMJMJo&hl=en&ei=lcIvSsXqFtG_twe175mKDA&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1#PPA257,M1

    “How old now is Amerind art? This question is hard to answer. The drawing at Vero is a small,
    crude, rather square drawing of a head.f Its square-ness suggests rudimentary Amerind drawing. As the
    horizon where it was found is unquestionably Pleistokene it may be that this drawing is Pleistokene and from its squareness the work of a Pleistokene ancestor of the present Amerinds. The fact that the drawing is on a tusk and also the marks with it suggest great age. Still one cannot be sure of anything more than that the drawing was made either by a Pleistokene Amerind or a historic Amerind: its age at present is uncertain.”

    page 258

    “The one drawing at Vero has nothing specially Paleolithic about it and its strongest qualification to be considered Pleistokene is that it is on the tusk of a proboscidian, a most unusual material
    to be used by a historic Amerind. It is harder to trace connections between stone implement technic and art technic in America than in Pleistokene Europe; nevertheless, from the information at present accessible, Amerind art seems associated with the Amerind Neolithic.”

    page 260

    9. “Amerind art apparently is not very old: except possibly the one specimen from Vero, 4,000 B. C. is the extremest date at present discernable: ”

    Text-figure 4; pl. 22, figs 1-3

    While excavating in stratum No. 2 of the section at Vero in April 1916, the writer obtained a fragment of bird bone and a tip of a proboscidian tusk which have markings which apparently were made by tools. The two specimens were found in


    Fig. 4 Sketch showing the section of the canal bank at the place, north bank 370 feet west of the railroad bridge, where the specimens showing the markings were obtained. At this place stratum No. 2 cuts into the shell marl, No. 1, and the fossils were found in a local accumulation of muck near the base of stratum No. 2. Of the bird bones in this locality some were found near the base of the stratum, while others were taken from the sand at a higher level.

    place near the base of stratum No. 2 on the north bank 370 feet west of the bridge and were removed from the bank by Isaac M. Weills. The two specimens are illustrated herwith (plate 22).

    The illustration is at plate 22 “Engravings”


    E. H. Sellards: Human remains and Associated Fossils from the
    Pleistocene of Florida: “Eighth Annual Report of the Florida State
    Geological Survey, 1916.”

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