Mastodon blood found on 13,000-year-old stone tool uncovered in Hamilton excavation

Visitors walk past a 2018 Mastodon skeleton display at the Royal Alberta Museum, in Edmonton. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

Researchers say they’ve finally confirmed the discovery of blood residue from a now-extinct mastodon on an old stone tool from a 19-year-old excavation on the Niagara Escarpment.

A newly released research paper in the Journal of Archaeological Science is reporting the finding was discovered during a routine “cultural resource management study” for the city of Hamilton between 2003 and 2004.

Dozens of stone tools — including projectile (spear) points and hide scrapers — were extracted from a Mount Albion West location in the Red Hill Valley area and likely used by the first human occupants of Ontario who moved into the area at the end of the last ice age some 12,000 years ago.

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Dr. Ronald Williamson, founder and senior associate of Archaeological Services Inc. (ASI), told Global News that evidence of interactions between mastadons and humans in Ontario is not new to the scientific community, but evidence of a butchering is.

“It’s an exciting find, an important find,” Willamson said.

“It’s giving real evidence to that supposition we’ve always had of people interacting with these elephants.”

Mastodons, which looked similar to modern elephants, are believed to have lived in herds and were predominantly forest-dwelling animals in North and Central America some 11,000 years ago.

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Williamson says the site the stones were excavated from in the late 1990’s were part of an archeological assessment in preparation for the building of the Red Hill Valley Parkway.

He says a detailed report on the excavation operation came back to ASI in 2006 with Canadian Museum of History (CMH) in Ottawa having historic interest in the stones around 2015.

A colleague suggested the ASI team should send the stones out for a residue analysis as a final check before turning them over to the CMH.

“I think it was late 2016 or early 2017, we had these most startling results from the lab in Oregon,” Williamson said.

“That began a process of … now we’ve got this stunning result on three of these tools, what should we what should we do next?”

The pieces would then be sent off to laboratories at the University of Wyoming and the University of Tulsa to “microscopically” look at the wear patterns of the weapons which suggested they were used in hunts by Paleo-Indian peoples, the first residents in the area.

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“It was deciding that we would try new and better developed research tools,” Williamson explained.

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“The processes have improved since the 1990s and now … so … it was a decision based on the fact that these tools were going to go out of our hands and into a permanent repository.”

The tools have now been transferred to the CMH in Ottawa, however, curators have not yet confirmed if the pieces will become part of any future display at the institution.

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