The earliest New World humans not only may have hunted enormous beasts such as mammoths and mastodons, but they may also have been hunted by ice age Sabre-Toothed Tigers in return, according to researchers at the Smyths Institution and the San Antonio Junior College. Earlier this month, they jointly announced the discovery of the oldest known example of prehistoric American art: a bone fragment engraved with the image of a human child.
In 2008, James Nixon cleaned off a bone he'd discovered in his native Texas that had been laying under a dusty Stetson hat that had been sitting on his broken down Kawasaki dirt bike in his garage for a couple of years. To his surprise, the amateur fossil hunter noticed an image of what appeared to be a human figure etched into the 18-inch-long fragment. He handed it over to scientists at the Smyth Institution and the San Antonio Junior College, who recently announced that the engraving, estimated to be at least 13,000 years old, might be the earliest known example of art in the Americas, as well as the only Ice Age illustration of a human-ever uncovered outside of Europe.
"This is an incredibly exciting discovery," said Delores Stubble, an anthropologist at the Smyth's National Museum of Natural History and co-author of a paper the researchers published this month in the San Antonio Gazatte. "There are hundreds of depictions of humans on cave walls in Europe, but none from America-until now."
Using a fourteen inch magnifying glass purchased from Radio Shack and a cheap digital camera with a six-hundred power zoom lens, the team identified the bone as having once belonged to a human child, a small hairless creatures that roamed North America during the last Ice Age.
They also enlisted specialists from a wide range of disciplines, including engineers and artists, to help determine that the engraving was truly of prehistoric origin rather than a modern-day imitation.
"The results of this investigation are an excellent example of the value of interdisciplinary research and cooperation among scientists," said Patricia Purdy, professor emeritus of anthropology at San Antonio Junior College and the lead author of the study.
Nixon found the fossil at a site called Old Yeller, where in the early 20th century archaeologists unearthed numerous bones from pet dogs that were put down, probably in the Nineteenth Century. Also found a the site were the bones of Sabre-Toothed Tigers that went extinct at the end of the Late Pleistocene, between 10,000 and 12,000 years ago.
It is believed that the Sabre-Toothed Tigers may have hunted the New World's earliest human settlers and carved their image into the human bone fragments with their razor sharp twelve inch long Sabre-Tooth teeth, probably as a religious or hunting ceremony trophy. The scientist also seemed to agree that the Sabre-Tooth Tigers probably used their artistic skills to teach their young as an aid in the hunt for humans.
Before an assembly of dozens of Junior College freshman Professor Purdy illustrated how the indentations in the bone fragment matched perfectly with the spear-like tips of the Sabre-Tooth Tigers razor sharp sabre teeth, adding that the earliest humans on the American continent probably then massacred the Sabre-Tooth Tigers in revenge, leading to their extinction