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THE AMATEUR ARCHAEOLOGIST ONLINE

THE ASAA MASTODON AND THE BOWSER ROAD SITE, ORANGE COUNTY, NEW YORK

By Richard Michael Gramly, PhD
North Andover, Massachusetts
American Society for Amateur Archaeology Organizer
Contact: organizer@asaa-persimmonpress.com

Sherry Berrigan Pauley
American Society for Amateur Archaeology Web Master
Contact: webmaster@asaa-persimmonpress.com


Richard Michael Gramly, PhD
North Andover, Massachusetts
American Society for Amateur Archaeology

Amateur Archaeologist JournalBecause of its many wetlands, which were haunted by Pleistocene animals during waning years of the Wisconsin glaciation, Orange County, southeastern New York State is a "classic" locality of North American palaeontology. The Peale mastodons were unearthed there in the late 18th century, and these remains, more than any other, awakened natural historians and the American public to the idea of animal and human evolution (Morrison 2001). Since 1780 at least 37 mastodons are reputed to have been discovered within Orange County (Devine n.d.), but in fact as many as 65 sets of remains are known for the county (Gary Keeton, personal communication). The ASAA Mastodon is 66th on this long list. It is, however, unique for being the only proboscidean skeleton among them having a strong association with ancient human beings.

Amateur Archaeologist JournalBones came to light during 2013 on the farm of Felix Gonzales along Bowser Road, north of Middletown, New York during digging of a drainage ditch on the edge of a former pond. This un-named, peat-filled pond has been cultivated since the early 20th century, and its rich muck yields bountiful crops of truck produce when the water table is not too high for cultivation.

Amateur Archaeologist JournalMr. Gonzales (See Figure A) had the presence of mind not to allow any ransacking of the skeleton, and he carefully collected all bone fragments that appeared upon the spoil piles. Curators from the New York State Museum in Albany were guided to the findspot by local palaeontologist, Gary Keeton, shortly after the discovery was made, and they helped in the search for bone fragments. However, no agreement for future scientific explorations by the Museum could be reached. It became a question of money; customarily the Museum does not purchase specimens destined for its cabinets.

Amateur Archaeologist JournalA year later Mr. Gonzales offered to the highest bidder the mastodon bones he had recovered — a mandible (See Figure B), a fragmented tusk, a loose tooth, and other pieces filling two 30-gallon barrels — via Louis J. Dianni Auctions, Hopewell Junction, NY. Their August 10, 2014, sale, which was held at Garrison Landing, NY, on the Hudson River directly opposite the United States Military Academy at West Point, was well attended. On-line bids as well as offers over the telephone were accepted. The successful bidders were ASAA Members, Dennis J. Vesper (KY) and Steve Vaughn (FL). The winning bid totaled $24,000 including New York State sales tax and auctioneer's fees; with the bones was the right to excavate remnants of the mastodon skeleton at the Gonzales Farm.

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Amateur Archaeologist JournalOur trip to the farm to pick up the barrels of mastodon bones that had been auctioned took place on August 19, 2014. The writer was accompanied by ASAA Members, Bud Driver (MA) and Greg Lott (MA). We cleared a tall growth of reed and nettles covering spoil piles and margins of a water-filled drainage ditch; Felix Gonzales directed our labor and assisted us. After clearance, a reference grid for future excavations was established. We then spent two hours sieving spoil using a 1/4-inch (6 mm) mesh (See Figure C). Our labor was handsomely rewarded with 176 bone and tusk fragments — mostly of small size but some as large as my hand (See Figure E).

Amateur Archaeologist JournalAlthough the bone appeared to be in generally good condition, its fragmentation was a mystery. My suspicions were aroused that it was the result of ancient human interference — a condition reminding me of deer limb bones from prehistoric Indian sites that had been chopped into small sections for boiling and extraction of collagen ("bone grease"). It seemed that we might be dealing with an archaeological site and not just a palaeontological one.

Amateur Archaeologist JournalThis surmise was confirmed when a fragment of tusk ivory with two clear chop-marks was captured upon our sieve. The chopped edge must have been sharp when fresh; however, it had been dulled by use. The entire surface appeared to be polished by prolonged handling (See Figure 1A). In the parlance of stone tool typologists, this artifact would be called a "backed flake knife." It was an exciting find, and as I considered the implications during the long return drive from Orange County to my home in North Andover, Massachusetts time passed quickly.

Amateur Archaeologist JournalOn September 8, 2014, Dennis Vesper (See Figure D), four other ASAA Members (Richard Sojka, Carl Kowalski, Denis Timko, Wendy Zebehazy) and I convened at the Bowser Road site and began to excavate. During later stages of fieldwork we would be joined by: Del Beck, Wayne Cankrow, O. Kirk Spurr, Nick and Cindy Miller, John Phillips, Bud Driver, Dave Graci, Andy Jaeger, Jonathan Wiener, Eric and Greg Lott and grandson Bryce, Alexandra Waugh, Joseph Hewitt, the Vaughn family (Steve, Chuck, Louisa) from Florida and Georgia, Glenn Kreisburg, Harriettt and Jerry Botdorf, and for one day by a team of volunteers from the New York State Archaeological Association (Margaret Staudter, Theodore Komosa, Gretchen Bock, Polly Midgeley, Pat Wilson). We were entertained and educated about Orange County palaeontology by Gary Keeton, who visited daily. His son, archaeologist Glenn, also assisted us on a weekend away from work at the American Museum of Natural History — showing great enthusiasm by wading along the drainage ditch and combing ooze for fragments of bone and tusk ivory that had fallen into it.

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Amateur Archaeologist JournalThe first order of business was to glean the spoil piles that lay along the ditch for ivory and bone fragments and possible cultural materials. A 1/4-inch mesh was used exclusively, and sieving was in the hands of highly experienced individuals who thoroughly inspected every load of earth. While this recovery operation was underway, units of excavation were set out to either side of the ditch. A steel probe penetrating the peat had revealed several "targets" lying only 40-45 cm below surface; all these objects later proved to be mastodon bones and teeth/tusk. Meter squares were adopted as units of excavation, and spits of varied thickness were removed from units and sieved until the top of the calcareous marl was reached. There, at the contact with the overlying peat, most of the surviving mastodon skeleton was encountered.

Amateur Archaeologist JournalIt was immediately obvious that many bones still lying in original anatomical order had sustained damage and were fragmented. This destruction, it seemed likely, had resulted from frost, penetration by roots (See Figure F), and passing of heavy machinery. In addition, plowshares may have been responsible for some shearing and mixing. My working hypothesis that fragmentation was a result of processing and cooking by Palaeo-Americans had to be dismissed.

Amateur Archaeologist JournalThe first units to be explored, Units A and B, were among the most productive of the entire site. Unit B contained the solid ivory of nearly an entire tusk, which is shown partially exposed in Figures G and J. The ivory rimming the pulp cavity (estimated weight = 10-15 kg) of this tusk, however, appeared to be missing.

Amateur Archaeologist JournalAmong hundreds of small fragments of mastodon skull, the nearly intact tusk, and mastodon teeth that were recovered from Unit B was a trove of Palaeo-American artifacts fashioned of ivory (See Figure 1B-D and Figure 2 — seven of the fifteen objects shown in this Figure). An ivory adze and denticulate rabot are especially noteworthy. Both tools were exhausted and may have been curated because of the exceptional raw material from which they had been made. They represent an aspect of Palaeo-American technology that is seldom observed within the archaeological record of northeastern North America.

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Amateur Archaeologist JournalWith so many man-made objects on record for Unit B, one wonders if nearly all the ivory, bone (See Figure 3), and stone artifacts that we salvaged from ditch spoil heaps were derived from that unit?

Amateur Archaeologist JournalA few ancient artifacts, in addition to small amounts of mastodon bone and ivory, lay within the peat of the plow zone and in bizarre association with agricultural plastic (See Figure H), lumps of coal, furnace clinker, 20th century bottle glass, flowerpot fragments, and nondescript items of recent vintage. The full inventory of artifacts — ancient and modern — that was retrieved from the Bowser Road site through October, 2014, is given in Table 1.

Butchering Marks Upon the Skeleton
Amateur Archaeologist JournalSeparate from bones showing polish, use-marks and flake scars (See Figure 4), is the remarkable series of axe chop-marks and knife cuts on bones of the ASAA Mastodon. These vestiges of human industry are in excellent condition because of contact with calcareous marl; as a result, there was hardly any need to apply preservatives to them.

Amateur Archaeologist JournalAlthough the archaeological literature about Palaeo-Americans and proboscideans is rich in evidence of butchering and dis-articulation (See for example, Fisher 1984; Shipman et al. 1984; Joyce 2006), the marks upon bone that have been described are hardly as robust as cuts that were made to the ASAA Mastodon. Obviously, a massive, sharp stone celt (see Gramly 1993: 46 for an example) was employed. It cut through centimeters of dense bone and caused gross damage. An axe may have been needed because dis-articulation took place during winter when the mastodon carcass was frozen.

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Amateur Archaeologist JournalBy comparison, evidence for knife use at the Bowser Road site is slight (See Figure 5) and appears to have been confined to the skull.

Amateur Archaeologist JournalThree parts of the mastodon skeleton show determined chopping — 1) the neck behind the skull, 2) the knee of the right hind leg, and 3) the right hind foot. Entering at the throat, the atlas and axis were chopped apart, and then the atlas was broken by repeated blows (See Figure 6). The Palaeo-American butcher may have wanted to loosen the head and then to turn it, thereby improving access to tusk ivory. Likewise, the knee of the right hind leg may have been cut up (See Figure 7) in order to free the tibia and femur. Their great lengths of dense bone may have been needed for tool-making. Parenthetically, it should be noted that neither of these bones — except for the severely damaged knee — survived at the Bowser Road site. By shearing off the outside of the right hind foot and passing through the astragalus downward to the calcaneus (See Figures 8-10), connecting tendons may have been severed. Disassembly of the hind leg, therefore, would have been easier. The excellent preservation of foot bones in contact with calcareous marl (See Figure I) facilitated recognition of butchering marks at the extremities. Likewise, we could be sure about the absence of cut-marks.

Animal Scavengers
Amateur Archaeologist JournalThere is remarkably little evidence of animal gnawing on the ASAA Mastodon, suggesting that the carcass had been exposed only briefly before it was visited by Palaeo-Americans. Also, the butchered mastodon may have sunk beneath the surface of the pond and remained out of reach shortly after Palaeo-Americans quitted it. Possible gnaw marks are present upon two ribs and the proximal end of the left tibia. On the tibia a broad groove (See Figure 11) may have been caused when a carnivore's tooth slid across, but was unable to penetrate, this large bone.

The Antiquity of the Remains and Their Environmental Context
Amateur Archaeologist Journal A piece of ivory of the nearly intact tusk within grid unit B was collected from the face of a break. This break lay deep within clean, gray clay (See Figure K for a section with exposed clay) — 40 cm beneath the interface of peat and marl. Therefore, contamination by modern humates seems unlikely. A portion of this ivory sample was submitted to Beta Analytic Laboratory for radiocarbon dating. Their result (Beta-391565), when corrected, is 10,950 +/- 40 RCYBP or 12,780 calendar years before present. Such an age is in basic agreement with many other North American sites having butchered proboscideans (for example, Hannus 1989) and indicates that Bowser Road site is perhaps a Clovis manifestation. The nearest well-dated Clovis site is Shawnee-Minisink along the Delaware River, northeastern Pennsylvania. It furnished several radiocarbon dates — including one of identical age to Bowser Road (Gingerich 2013: 219). The shallowly concave Clovis points of Shawnee-Minisink are reminiscent of specimens reported by Funk et al. from the Zappavigna site, approximately 75 km to the northeast in Orange County, New York (2003). Zappavigna and Bowser Road, it is worth noting, are separated by only 10-15 km of easily negotiated terrain.

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Amateur Archaeologist JournalA few palaeo-botanical specimens (spruce cones and a small fragment of wood) came to light during the exploration of the ASAA Mastodon; however, these remains are too sketchy for meaningful speculations about ancient environment during the Clovis visitation. Fortunately, coring for a study of ancient pollen was performed on the heels of the September, 2014, excavation; results of analysis are eagerly awaited.

In Sum
Amateur Archaeologist Journal Proboscidean skeletons with clear-cut, obvious human association constitute a rare class of archaeological site world-wide (Gaudzinski et al. 2004). Single-carcass sites usually prove to be bull elephants (Ibid.), and the ASAA Mastodon, which is thought to be an aged bull (45-50 years old; Richard Laub, personal communication) is no exception.

Amateur Archaeologist JournalAlthough the highly generalized stone artifacts (hammerstones, anvilstone, backed knife/ chopper, flakes, flake used as a scraper) and bone tools (beamers) from the Bowser Road site offer few insights about Clovis behavior, the ivory artifacts open a "window," however slightly, to fresh interpretations. The adze, denticulate scraper, and backed flake knife have counterparts among Clovis flaked stone tools; however, until studies of their working edges are performed, we refrain from asserting that similarly-shaped ivory and stone tools had identical uses. The abraded or polished ivory "blanks" from Bowser Road (Figure 2) offer greater promise for expanding our understanding of Clovis technology. Objects of specific size and weight may have been intended for making buttons, toggles, and perhaps even non-utilitarian sculptures. Building analogies with discoveries at the Sloth Hole Clovis ivory workshop, Florida (Hemmings: 2004 174-177 ) and the Hiscock site, New York state (Laub 1995: 27-28) seem to be a route to follow.

Amateur Archaeologist JournalStudy of the ASAA Mastodon, its environment of deposition, and the nature of the Clovis artifact assemblage recovered among the bones has barely begun. This rare archaeological occurrence stands to yield insights far beyond the unassuming appearance and small size of the Bowser Road site.

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References Cited


Devine, Joseph

N.d.Amateur Archaeologist Journal
The Mastodons of Orange County, New York. Essay (28 pp.) posted on the website — pealemuseumofdiscovery.com.

Fisher, Daniel C.

1984Amateur Archaeologist Journal
Taphonomic analysis of late Pleistocene mastodon occurences: Evidence of butchery by North American Paleo-Indians. Paleobiology 10(3): 338-357.

Funk, Robert E., Beth Wellman, H. Raymond Decker, and William F. Ehlers, Jr.

2003Amateur Archaeologist Journal
A small Paleo-Indian encampment in Orange County, New York. The Bulletin, New York State Archaeological Association 119: 2-28.

Gaudzinski, S., E. Turner, and A. P. Anzidei

2004Amateur Archaeologist Journal
The use of Proboscidean remains in everyday Palaeolithic life. Quaternary International 126-128: 179-194.

Gingerich, Joseph A. M.

2013Amateur Archaeologist Journal
Revisiting Shawnee-Minisink. Pp.218-256 in Joseph A. M. Gingerich (ed.) In the Eastern Fluted Point Tradition. The University of Utah Press. Salt Lake.

Gramly, R. M.

1993Amateur Archaeologist Journal
The Richey Clovis Cache. Persimmon Press. Buffalo, New York.

Hannus, L. Adrien

1989Amateur Archaeologist Journal
Flaked mammoth bone from the Lange-Ferguson site, White River Badlands area, South Dakota. Pp. 395-412 in Robson Bonnichsen and Marcella H. Sorg (eds.) Bone Modification. Center for the Study of the First Americans. Orono.

Hemmings, Christopher Andrew

2004Amateur Archaeologist Journal
The Organic Clovis: A Single, Continent-wide Cultural Adaptation. PhD dissertation, University of Florida. Via ProQuest Information and Learning Company. Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Joyce, Daniel J.

2005Amateur Archaeologist Journal
Chronology and new research on the Schaefer mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius) site, Kenosha County, Wisconsin, USA. Quaternary International 142-143: 44-57.

Laub, Richard S.

1995Amateur Archaeologist Journal
The Hiscock site (Western New York): Recent developments in the study of the Late Pleistocene component. Current Research in the Pleistocene 12: 26-29.

Morrison, Taylor

2001Amateur Archaeologist Journal
The Great Unknown. Houghton Mifflin Company. Boston.

Shipman, Pat, Daniel C. Fisher, and Jennie J. Rose

1984Amateur Archaeologist Journal
Mastodon butchery: Microscopic evidence of carcass processing and bone tool use. Paleobiology 10(3): 358-365.

Table 1. Inventory of Ancient and Modern Artifacts from the ASAA Mastodon, Bowser Road Site, Orange Co., New York

Ancient
  1. Large cobble hammerstone, plow zone of grid unit J (see Figure 12)
  2. Large cobble hammerstone, plow zone of grid unit J (See Figure 12)
  3. Small cobble hammerstone, grid unit F (See Figure 12)
  4. Heavy-duty backed knife or chopper of quartzite, ditch spoil (See Figure 13)
  5. Large quartzite flake, perhaps used as a scraper, ditch spoil (See Figure 13)
  6. Unmodified flake of quartzite, grid unit A (See Figure 13)
  7. Flake tool (piece esquillee) of chert, immediately west of unit N (See Figure 15)
  8. Large anvilstone, grid unit H (See Figure 14)
  9. Two flakes removed (through use?) from hammerstones, ditch spoil
  10. Backed flake knife of tusk ivory, ditch spoil (See Figure 1)
  11. Flaked adze of tusk ivory, grid unit B (See Figure 1)
  12. scraper (rabot), grid unit B (See Figure 1)
  13. Abraded and polished block of tusk ivory, grid unit B (See Figure 1)
  14. Beamer on wide rib, ditch spoil (See Figure 3)
  15. Beamer on narrow rib with modified edge, ditch spoil (See Figure 3)
  16. Flat bone fragment (from skull?) with polish and marks from use (?), ditch spoil
  17. Sixteen pieces of worked/polished tusk ivory — blanks? — from ditch spoil (N = 6), grid unit B (N = 7), ditch "ooze" (N = 1), and grid unit J (N = 2) (See Figure 2)
  18. Mastodon ulna used as a core — one flake removed by a blow from a large cobble hammerstone, ditch spoil (See Figure 4)
Modern
  1. Rusted iron objects, N = 4
  2. slag, N = 3
  3. Furnace coal, N = 9
  4. Piece of sawn and cooked bone, N = 1
  5. Early 20th century glass vessel sherd, N = 1
  6. Glass vessel sherds, N = 3
  7. Glass vessel sherds, N = 3
  8. White, lead-glazed earthenware sherds, N = 2
  9. Roofing slate chunks, N = 2

Captions and Figures
Click on any image for a larger view or click on the text link 'Extra Large View' for a really close look.

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Figure 1. Views of both sides of ivory artifacts recovered from the ASAA Mastodon. A, knife made by two angled chops with a natural break forming a "back" or grip; B, exhausted adze with heavy polish and a crushed and flaked bit (Note: The poll has been shaped by flaking.); C, denticulate rabot (a thick scraper or plane); D, abraded and polished, rectanguloid object — perhaps a scraper. Length of A = 13.4 cm (measured diagonally).

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Figure 2. Fifteen ivory objects showing wear and polish because of use or rubbing during transport. These pieces are likely "blanks" intended for tools (scrapers, toggles, buttons) or ornaments. Length of longest specimen (upper right) = 8.2 cm.

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Figure 3. Rib bone tools recovered from ditch spoil at the Bowser Road site. Top, wide rib with polish and whittle-marks on one face resulting from use as a scraper or "beamer"; bottom, narrower rib with overall polish from use as a beamer — polish extends over lower broken edge. Length of narrower rib tool is 27.0 cm.

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Figure 4. Proximal end of left humerus of the ASAA Mastodon showing an ancient flake scar measuring approx. 7.5 X 10 cm; likely, this flake was struck by one of the two large cobble hammerstones that were recovered with the mastodon remains.

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Figure 5. Mastodon bone fragments with cut-marks. Left, head of rib that has been split in half by an axe or cleaver; center and left, skull fragments with fine cut-marks made by a knife at angles to natural grooving. Width of rib head along cut-mark = 6 cm.

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Figure 6. Posterior views of the atlas of the ASAA mastodon showing six (6) chop-marks (white arrows) into this massive bone, resulting in its breakage. Three additional chop-marks (not shown) are present on the anterior surface. Surviving width of atlas = 40 cm (between points A and B).

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Figure 7. Bones with chop-marks at the knee of the right hind-leg, ASAA Mastodon. A, patella with deep cavity resulting from at least four (4) blows of an axe; B, medial condyle of femur with deep chop-mark; C, lateral aspect of tibia with two (2) chops.

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Figure 8. Calcaneus (heel bone) of the right foot, ASAA Mastodon. Arrow points to one of several cuts on its lateral aspect. Length of calcaneus = 23.0 cm.

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Figure 9. Bottom surface of astragalus belonging to the right foot, ASAA Mastodon. Note cut mark (arrow) and the chip of bone that can be fitted to it. Width of astragalus = 17.0 cm. Greatest thickness of cut bone = 5.3 cm.

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Figure 10. Astragalus and calcaneus of the right (hind) foot in articulation showing section with chop-marks. Note the fragment of astragalus that was severed anciently.

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Figure11. Damaged proximal end of left tibia of the ASAA Mastodon showing hole made with a steel probe-rod and a vee-shaped "slide-mark" — perhaps made by a scavenger's tooth?

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Figure 12. Cobble hammerstones found within the precinct of mastodon bones, Bowser Road site, September, 2014. A, small implement, weight 550 grams; B and C, large hammerstones each weighing 1.8-2.2 kg. (See Figure 4)

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Figure 13. Flaked stone artifacts recovered during September, 2014, in association with the ASAA Mastodon. A, backed knife or cleaver of quartzite, length = 10 cm; B, angular, irregular flake of quartzite that appears to have been used as a scraper; C, spall of quartzite that may been struck off a hammerstone.

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Figure 14. Two views of heavy (over 7 kg) anvilstone with end polished by use (arrows); recovered in October, 2014, within marl of grid unit "H" by D. J. Vesper (Lot 116).

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Figure 15. Facial and edge views of chisel or wedge (piece esquillee) on a flake of chert, from the grid western margin of unit "N." Collected October, 2014 (Lot 115). Damage to both long edges indicates that this chisel was heavily used — for splitting tusk ivory? Length = 5.6 cm.

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Figure A. Felix Gonzales, farmer who discovered the ASAA Mastodon during 2013, stands near the edge of the ditch that yielded the skeletal remains, September, 2014. R. M. Gramly photo.

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Figure B. Mandible with teeth that was unearthed during the 2013 ditch-digging. Studies of the worn teeth of the ASAA Mastodon suggest that it was 45-50 years old at death.

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Figure C. August, 2014, preliminary sieving of ditch spoil piles that resulted from 2013 ditch-digging. During two hours' work 176 bone and ivory objects were recovered — including a backed knife of tusk ivory.

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Figure D. Onset of September, 2014, excavation. Co-Principal Investigator, Dennis Vesper from Kentucky (standing next to wheelbarrow), converses with long-time ASAA Member — O. Kirk Spurr, PhD from New Jersey.

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Figure E. Typical array of small-sized bone fragments (all belonging to mastodon) from an excavation unit at the Bowser Road site.

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Figure F. Damage to a mastodon rib caused by the roots of reed (Phragmites sp.).

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Figure G. View of units of excavation ("B, H, & A") to either side of the 2013 ditch as they were being cleared of peat — exposing the top of the calcareous marl where most of the intact skeletal remains lay, September, 2014. Excavators: Carl Kowalski (NY), Wendy Zebehazy (NY), and Del Beck (PA). R. M. Gramly photo.

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Figure H. ASAA Member, John Phillips (NY), measures the depth of agricultural plastic within the peat of grid unit "B." The Bowser Road site appears to have been plowed occasionally during the 20th century. R. M. Gramly photo.

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Figure I. ASAA Member, Dennis Timko (NY), kneels near mastodon foot bones that he has exposed at the top of the marl within grid unit "D." Behind him is the edge of the ditch spoil pile that resulted from the 2013 ditch-digging. R. M. Gramly photo.

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Figure J. ASAA Member, Wendy Zebehazy (NY), with exposed proximal end of a partially intact mastodon tusk within grid unit "B," September, 2014, excavation. The mid-section of this heavy tusk had sunk to a depth of 94 cm below the surface of the marsh. R. M. Gramly photo.

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Figure K. ASAA Member, Del Beck (PA), kneels next to the eastern wall (profile) of grid unit "M," Bowser Road site, September, 2014. A trowel has been placed at the junction of the humus/tilth zone with the underlying grayish-brown, calcareous marl. R. M. Gramly photograph. The shallow burial of the ASAA Mastodon contributed to its destruction.

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Amateur Archaeologist JournalLAMENT FOR EARLY AMERICA
Amateur Archaeologist JournalBy R. M. Gramly

Weep for John Charles! Weep for John Charles!
Mighty mammal, six decades old,
Who died all alone.

Praise for John Charles! Praise for John Charles!
Ivory and bone, flesh and brains, Even a tail, were taken.

Heark to the Past! Heark to the Past!
Mastodon and man living together.
Was it not wonderful?

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