Archaeologists in Mexico have discovered the remains of dozens of mammoths in a finding that could shed further light on the hunting methods of prehistoric communities.
The discoveries were made near the construction site of a new civilian airport, General Felipe Ángeles International Airport, north of Mexico City. They give archaeologists “an unprecedented opportunity to delve into more than 30,000 years of history,” Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History said in a statement Thursday.
Pedro Francisco Sánchez Nava, the institute’s national coordinator of archaeology, said the remains of about 60 mammoths had so far been uncovered in three areas since exploration started late last year on the airport construction site, which was formerly occupied by the Santa Lucía air base. One of those areas was the shoreline of the former ancient Lake Xaltocan.
The skeletons — mature males and females and their young — were found in the shallow areas of the former lake and were more complete than those found in deeper parts of the former body of water.
Researchers believe the animals became fair game for hunters when they were in the shallow muck of the lake, Mr. Sánchez said in his statement. The researchers were still analyzing the bones to see how many could form complete skeletons.
“It is not ruled out that humans have taken advantage of these heavy animals, once they got stuck in the mud,” he said.
About 15 human burials of the pre-Hispanic period were also discovered, and the archaeologists believe they were of farmers. Some were buried with pots, bowls and clay figurines, like that of a dog, the institute said.
The Xaltocan excavations lie about six miles away from a planned landfill site in the town of Tultepec, where last year archaeologists discovered the bones of about 14 mammoths in two large pits believed to have been dug about 15,000 years ago.
Adam N. Rountrey, a collection manager at the University of Michigan Museum of Paleontology, said at the time that the find in Tultepec was “interesting,” but he noted there had been debate about whether sites of mammoth remains represented hunted animals or scavenged natural deaths.
Competing theories explain the demise of the mammoths, but it was most likely a combination of climate change, which created untenable conditions for the animals and also killed off a plant-based diet, as well as contact with humans who sought their skin and meat.
Sandra E. Garcia contributed reporting.