Saturday, April 16, 2011


A candidate for the earliest known art in North America was found a few years ago near Vero Beach, in east central Florida. Vero Beach is known to fossil collectors for its prehistoric mammal fossils and shark teeth. Fossil hunter James Kennedy had discovered a 15” (38 centimeter) piece of bone and placed it in a box under his sink for storage for a time and had retrieved it and dusted it off when he discovered that something was engraved on the bone.

Writing in the National Geographic Blog Central, June 10, 2009, Chris Sloan reported that “when the specimen came to the attention of Dr. Barbara Purdy and other experts at the University of Florida and the Florida Museum of Natural History, they initiated a study which has thus far been unable to show that it is a fake. At this time, they are cautiously supporting its authenticity. Dennis Stanford of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History said, "One does have to wonder, but at face value it looks pretty good.”

Purdy, a professor emerita at the University of Florida, and scientists there, also “determined the bone belonged to one of three animals: a mammoth, a mastodon, or a giant sloth—all of which died out at the end of the last ice age, between about 12,000 to 10,000 years ago. I literally went on the assumption that [the carving] was a fake," said Purdy, who was later convinced of its authenticity after the bone had passed a barrage of tests by University of Florida forensic scientists. The examinations revealed that the light etching is not recent, and that it was made a short time after the animal died, according to Purdy.”

Now we know that in other parts of the world where humans and mammoths co-existed, the humans left imagery of the mammoths in paint, bone and stone. To a certain extent we have to then ask ourselves if they did that elsewhere, why would they not have done so here as well. Until further scientific testing has managed to conclude the question of the engraving’s authenticity and date as an ancient artifact, we will have to leave the discussion open, but it is a fascinating possibility.


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