The Hanjy Mammoth Site
Aerial photo of Hajny Mammoth site
Some of the most exciting archaeological research being done today
concerns the arrival of people into the New World. Through most
of the 20th century, archaeologists believed the earliest arrivals
occurred some 12,000 years ago. However, recent research has pushed
that date back several thousand years, at least.
Mammoths, the prehistoric and now-extinct cousin of the elephant,
are the animal most often associated with these early humans. And,
in Oklahoma, mammoth bones are not uncommonly found during the building
of roads, erosion from creek banks or quarrying operations. When
archaeologists inspect these finds, they are always aware of the
potential for humans being involved in the death of the mammoths
and leaving behind the evidence in the form of spearpoints or other
In 1983, farmer-rancher Gary Hajny reported the uncovering of mammoth
bones during gravel quarrying on his father's property. The site
sits on a terrace of the Canadian River which is about a mile to
the west. An archaeologist from the Oklahoma Archeological Survey
inspected the bones and noted that they were surrounded by a blue
clay which appeared similar to the clay surrounding the Domebo
mammoth skeleton, where Clovis hunters butchered the animal
some 11,000 years ago.
To better assess whether the Hajny mammoth might have been killed
by people, some of the bone and snails collected from the area were
sent off for radiocarbon dating. The bone dated to 9,000 years ago
while the snails dated to 20,000 years ago. In spite of the 11,000
year difference, the possibility of an early man site could not
be ruled out. As a result, the decision to excavate the site was
made and excavations began in 1985.
Mammoth tusk exposed during excavation
Toward the end of the 1985 excavations, a second mammoth was uncovered
and so fieldwork was planned for 1986. No evidence of humans was
uncovered in the careful excavations. Teeth from the two mammoths
were dated to 143,000 years ago and 166,000 years ago. Despite the
early age of this site, the research has been useful for scientists
who study the past. Each excavation of these ancient environments
helps us better understand the conditions in those times and also
can be useful in helping future archaeologists understand the processes
which affect bones. Detecting the differences between bones broken
up by natural weathering or animal scavengers versus bones disturbed
by human butchering will be critical in the study of very old sites
when the first humans arrived in North America.
The two Hajny mammoths are also interesting in and of themselves.
They were both mature adults although the sex of neither individual
could be determined. There were several different species of mammoth
in North American and these two were either the Imperial or Columbian
mammoth or possibly even a species intermediate between the two.
The two mammoths died at the site of a natural spring, probably
not too far apart in time. Their bones did not lie exposed to the
air or to scavengers for very long before they were covered up.
However, other mammoths visiting the spring disturbed their bones,
crushing some of them and rearranging others. This same behavior
has been observed in modern times among African elephants around
Although the two Hajny mammoths died over a 100,000 years before
the first humans visited Oklahoma, it is likely that their recovery
and study will one day help us understand our state's first people
as well as its Ice Age elephants!
Ancient spring revealed in profile
For further reading:
Interdisciplinary Studies of the Hajny
Mammoth Site, Dewey County, Oklahoma, by Don G. Wyckoff, Brian
J. Carter, Peggy Flynn, Larry D. Martin, Branley A. Branson, and
James L. Theler. University of Oklahoma, Oklahoma Archeological
Survey, SOP 17. 1992
Number of Prehistoric Sites in Dewey
County Identified to Time Period