By Jeff Chew
Peninsula Daily News
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Bones found after Emanuel “Manny” Manis unearthed mastodon tusks in August 1977 led to Washington State University zoologist and archaeological dig team leader Carl Gustafson's discovery of a bone spearhead point stuck in a mastodon's rib.
It was the first evidence showing a direct association between man and mastodon on the North American continent — of man hunting and killing the large, elephant-like creatures that once roamed the region but fell to extinction.
Then Thursday, the journal Science released an article written by a team of national archaeology scientists confirming Gustafson's theory that people inhabited the area around Sequim some 800 years before the Clovis people, once believed to be the first Paleo-Indian people to inhabit North America between 13,800 and 14,000 years ago.
Using the newer technologies in carbon dating and DNA testing, the team concluded that the bone tip of a “projectile” found stuck in a mastodon rib on 16 acres of farmland owned by Manny and Clare Manis was indeed linked to the oldest known North Americans.
It was a mere accident that Manis was using a backhoe to dig a pond at the time of his discovery more than 30 years ago.
“If he hadn't hit those tusks, he would have never found a bone bed,” said Clare Manis Hatler, who remarried after her husband died in 2000.
“Manny deserves a lot of credit. By luck he found it, so what can you say?
“He's named after it, and I wish he could be there today.”
She added: “This is the first time that they have found evidence of many hunting mastodons. Now there is no doubt about it.”
The two tusks that Manny Manis uncovered, which looked like pieces of wet wood and were partly damaged though preserved in an ancient marshland peat bog, are today still safely preserved in a water tank at the Museum & Arts Center of the Sequim-Dungeness Valley's collections storage.
As a result of the discovery, the Manis mastodon archeological site became the state's first registered National Historic Place near the end of Lester Way in Happy Valley.
Manis Hatler stood Friday at the concrete monument her husband built, firmly embedding the plaque that then-Gov. Dixie Lee Ray gave to them to mount.
It is just off the road on the edge of the field filled in and overgrown with canary grass over where an archaeological dig took place from 1977 to 1985.
The Manis site revealed the skeletal remains of a partly butchered mastodon, about 8 to 9 feet tall at the shoulder and weighing maybe 6 tons, at least two millennia before Clovis.
“Recent studies have strengthened the case that the makers of Clovis spear points were not the first people to occupy the Americas,” the Science journal's article concluded.
The article states that the Manis site provides evidence that people were hunting with mastodon bone weapons made from earlier kills.
Evidence further suggests that the absence of stone projectile points at the Manis site meant that bone points were the dominant hunting weapon during the pre-Clovis period.
Bone and other ivory points and tools are common in the Upper Paleolithic of Siberia and elsewhere.
“They are durable and lethal hunting weapons that continued to be used during and after Clovis,” the article says.
The invention and spread of new hunting weapons, such as Clovis stone spear point, may have accelerated the demise of the mastodon and other megafauna, the new findings state.
Across Bering land bridge
The Manis inhabitants were believed to have migrated to North America from Northeastern and Central Asia, much like the Clovis people, crossing the Bering land bridge through present-day Alaska.
For Manis Hatler, who still lives on the site, Thursday's findings were proof positive for the archaeologist who led the dig team that uncovered the mastodon under the field — Gustafson.
Gustafson, one of the scientists who wrote the Science journal article, was finally recognized after 34 years and new technologies verified his findings.
“The techniques weren't available in the '70s or '80s, so when Mike called, I was tickled pink,” Gustafson, retired from WSU for 12 years now, said of Michael Waters, an archaeologist at Texas A&M University who contacted him about three years ago, offering to use CT scanning at Texas A&M to get a close-up view of the buried bone point.
That helped them conclude the point was 10 inches long and had been sharpened, said Gustafson, who dug on the Manis site from 1977 to 1985, taking a year off in 1984.
Gustafson said he left the site knowing full well then what he had found.
“At that time, my conclusion was I thought there couldn't be any other way, that this was human caused,” he said.
For the most recent study, Gustafson said, he “provided background informatio, and the bones and all the wherewithal to get started.”
Gustafson recalled that his excavation team, which included his son, Brad, who was 12 at the time, did not use metal tools so as not to damage the bones they uncovered then washed down to reveal their remaining framework.
The team also included 12 to 14 WSU students, and Gustafson said he gave 15 lectures the first year he was at the farm site.
He said he also hired a person to operate a laboratory in the Manis garage.
“At our site, we had 14,000 calendar years of deposits, and we had to track the layers of the ground,” he said.
From what he surmised, the dead mastodon was lying in 2 to 3 feet of water, “and they took what they could get and moved it up-slope” using stone tools to cut through the meat.
Gustafson has been retired from WSU for 13 years but said his studies will not end with the Manis mastodon.
He said he has other findings and different bone artifacts from the Manis site that he has not reported.
He said he has at least six to eight sets of “what appeared to be bones that were worked by humans, and I'm calling those artifacts.
“Before this [article], nobody would believe these were artifacts.”
He also is working with the archaeological team studying bison remains found at Ayer Pond on Orcas Island.
Besides the mastodon, he said he found the remains of six bison on the Manis site and hoped to compare his remains with those found on Orcas.
The bison remains discovered were creatures that were far larger than today's buffalo, weighing up to 2,000 pounds.
“They look exactly like stuff we have here that dates back that far,” he said.
Sequim-Dungeness Valley Editor Jeff Chew can be reached at 360-681-2391 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.