Mammoths Co-Existed with Early Americans in New England, Study Suggests

Friday, March 5, 2021

The woolly mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius) at the Royal BC Museum, Victoria, British Columbia. Image credit: Tracy O / CC BY-SA 2.0.

The so-called Mount Holly mammoth (Mammuthus sp.) lived approximately 12,800 years ago in what is now New England, a region comprising six states in the Northeastern United States, and potentially overlapped with the first human settlers of the region, according to new research from Dartmouth College.

The remains of Pleistocene megafauna, including proboscideans (elephant-like animals), are well documented in northeastern North America, but well dated finds are rare in New England with only eight examples in the region and none from the state of Vermont.

The Mount Holly mammoth discovered during railroad construction in the summer of 1848 is the most complete and best documented set of proboscidean remains from Vermont, but remained undated.

One molar, two tusks, and an unknown number of bones were excavated from a hilltop bog near Mount Holly.

“It has long been thought that megafauna and humans in New England did not overlap in time and space and that it was probably ultimately environmental change that led to the extinction of these animals in the region but our research provides some of the first evidence that they may have actually co-existed,” said Dartmouth College researchers Dr. Nathaniel Kitchel and Dr. Jeremy DeSilva.

The researchers’ goal was to obtain a radiocarbon date for the fragmentary rib bone of the Mount Holly mammoth.

They took a 3D scan of the material prior to taking a small (one gram) sample from the broken end of the rib bone.

They then sent the sample to the Center for Applied Isotope Studies at the University of Georgia for radiocarbon dating and a stable istotopic analysis.

“The Mount Holly mammoth was one of the last known occurring mammoths in the Northeast,” Dr. DeSilva said.

“The radiocarbon date for the fossil of 12,800 years old overlaps with the accepted age of when humans may have initially settled in the region, which is thought to have occurred during the start of the Younger Dryas.”

The findings were published in the journal Boreas.


Nathaniel R. Kitchel & Jeremy M. DeSilva. First AMS radiocarbon date and stable C:N isotope analysis for the Mount Holly Mammoth, Vermont, USA. Boreas, published online March 4, 2021; doi: 10.1111/bor.12517