Fossil Find in Florida

June 15, 2009

Using energy dispersive X-ray spectroscopy and a scanning electron microscope, scientists from the University of Florida (Gainesville, Florida) determined the authenticity of a fossil found by an amateur fossil hunter in Vero Beach, Florida.

Using energy dispersive X-ray spectroscopy and a scanning electron microscope, scientists from the University of Florida (Gainesville, Florida) determined the authenticity of a fossil found by an amateur fossil hunter in Vero Beach, Florida.

The ancient bone is etched with a clear image of a walking mammoth or mastodon. The scientists concluded that both the carving and the bone’s surface were the same age —12,000 to 14,000 years old — with no evidence of recent tampering. Dr. Barbara Purdy, professor emerita of anthropology at the University of Florida, is calling the find “the oldest, most spectacular and rare work of art in the Americas.”

According to Dr. Purdy and other experts from the university, this remarkable discovery demonstrates with new and startling certainty that humans coexisted with prehistoric animals more than 12,000 years ago in this fossil-rich region of Florida. No similar carved figure has ever been authenticated in the United States, or anywhere else in this hemisphere.

The brown, mineral-hardened bone bearing the unique carving is a foot-long fragment from a larger bone that belonged to an extinct “mammoth, mastodon, or ground sloth,” according to Dr. Richard C. Hulbert, a vertebrate paleontologist at the Florida Museum of Natural History. These animals have been extinct in Florida for at least 10,000 years.

The image is etched into the bone by a highly sharpened stone tool or the tooth of the animal, and it was likely carved right after the animal it came from died. The fossil has been subjected to extensive tests by experts around the world over the past two months in an effort to verify its authenticity. To date, they have all agreed that the carving appears to be the same age as the bone itself.