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Not long afterward Lehner bought the Hereford ranch and settled there with his wife and young son. For the next three years he concentrated on building up his herd of cattle. But his eyes never strayed far from the arroyo, where, each summer, thunderstorms brought sudden torrents that briefly foamed between the clay banks, only to evaporate and leave the stream bed dry again beneath the Arizona sun. Then, in August of last year, unusually heavy rains carved away large sections of the bank. When the floods had subsided, an array of enormous bones lay exposed. Lehner again notified Dr. Haury, and this time a systematic excavation was planned. To assist in the project, Dr. Haury enlisted the talents of Dr. Ernest Antevs, geologist; Dr. John F. Lance, paleontologist; Edwin B. Sayles and William W. Wasley, respectively curator and archaeologist of the museum. Beginning in November 1955, a power shovel attacked the bank of the arroyo, gnawing away more than 1,000 tons of dirt, comprising the sedimentation of 10,000 years. Then, when this overburden had been removed, the scientists and their helpers proceeded to the delicate task of probing the heart of the bone bed with hand implements—spades, knives, dental tools and, finally, brushes. Little by little they uncovered a vast abattoir of prehistoric man—a jumbled mass of huge bones, disjointed, disarticulated, interlocked like giant jackstraws. As each fragment was extracted with exquisite care, it was coated with preservative and jacketed in burlap and plaster to prevent fracturing during transferal to the museum.
Between November and February of this year, when the heart of the bone bed was exhausted, the diggers uncovered the skeletons of nine mammoths, a prehistoric bison, a prehistoric horse and a prehistoric tapir. They also found interspersed among the bones 13 stone spear heads, eight butchering instruments in the form of crude knives, choppers and scrapers and an abundance of charcoal from two big fire pits. All in all, these discoveries constituted one of the most important events in the history of American anthropology. Never before had anyone disclosed so lavish a killsite, with the bones of so many mammoths found in association with the tools of the hunters who slew them and feasted on their flesh. Never before had there emerged such clear and abundant evidence of the coexistence of man and mammoth in ancient America, nor so vivid a picture of the primitive hunter's way of life. Here and there, in recent decades, fragmentary findings had recurrently come to light. But the Lehner discovery, as Dr. Haury put it, was an "archaeological bonanza." From the evidence the scientists were able to reconstruct certain events that took place in Mr. Lehner's arroyo one day about 8000 B.C.
The first morning of the first hunt began with a gray overcast of broken clouds streaking the dappled sky. As the light behind them brightened, a small band of men moved watchfully across the floor of the San Pedro Valley. Moderate of stature but strongly muscled, they had reddish-brown skin, straight dark hair and generally Mongoloid features. They were, on the one hand, the descendants of Asiatic tribesmen who had crossed the Bering Strait into the New World several thousand years earlier; they were also the ancestors of the modern American Indian. A nomadic people, they migrated seasonally from one hunting ground to another, living sometimes in caves, sometimes in brush shelters covered with hides. They had no permanent homes, no villages, for they had not yet discovered the arts of agriculture that eventually would bind them to the soil. Year in and year out they stalked the big game across the land, banded together in small kinship groups of several families each. And as they wandered, their women and children followed after, gathering roots, berries and succulent greens wherever they could be found. Hunger was with them always.
On this particular morning they advanced with special caution, for in the distance their scouts had sighted some of the biggest and most powerful game that roamed the plains—a herd of Columbian mammoth. The rewards of a kill would be great; a single mammoth would provide their band with meat for many days. But the hazards were great too. For weapons they had only spears—wooden shafts four to six feet long, tipped with points of stone. To kill so huge a creature many spears would have to penetrate to vital spots through thick, resistant hide. The spears could not be hurled from a distance. They must be thrust into the animal's body at close range despite the peril of flailing tusks and trampling feet.
On a small promontory screened by oak and hickory trees, the leader called a halt. Before the hunters stretched a green and gentle meadowland, plumed with groves of poplar, spruce and mountain ash, bejeweled with blue ponds and sculptured by a river and many tributary streams. The San Pedro Valley had not then shriveled to desert land, for the great Pleistocene ice caps still extended their frozen tongues far southward, and the Arizona climate remained moist and temperate. The leader of the band pointed his spear toward a clear eddying stream a quarter of a mile below the bluff on which they stood. At a bend in the stream the waters widened into a pool some 50 feet in width, divided by a narrow sand bar and enclosed by vertical banks of red clay, four feet high. There upon the sand bar and in the shallow waters of the pool they saw their prey.
The ambush and the kill
There were eight mammoths in the herd, ranging from full-grown adults, towering more than 12 feet from toe to head, down to tuskless infants four feet high. Unlike the woolly mammoths of the glaciated north, their hides bore only short, scraggly hair. From a distance they looked like the Indian elephants of today—save for one feature. The tusks of the mature mammoths were of monstrous proportions—as long as the animal was high—curved inward on themselves like great encircling arms. In the case of the oldest individuals—75 to 80 years of age—the tusks crossed completely, rendering them useless save as bludgeons. As the hunters watched, the mammoths idled in the gently moving water. Some of them stood motionless where the main channel was five or six feet deep, letting the current lap about their flanks. Others scooped up wet sand in their trunks and splashed it across their backs.
Now the leader of the band dispatched an order to the women who had lingered in the rear, collecting berries, tubers and nuts. They were to prepare firebrands and join the hunters without delay. It was plain that the mammoths were ideally situated for a surprise attack. Clumsy and slow-moving at best, they would be handicapped by slippery footing and the water of the stream, whose steep banks penned them in on either side. They could escape only in two directions, upstream or downstream; and perhaps the sight and smell of fire, strategically displayed, would halt their stampede and hold them paralyzed, available for slaughter.
The hunters split into two teams. Diverging in wide arcs, one group headed toward a point far above the pool, the second toward another point below it. As they advanced, they moved with ever greater care, freezing in their tracks, crouching whenever they saw a mammoth raise its trunk and sniff the drifting air. Finally they reached the edge of the stream. Sliding down the slippery embankment, they waded out into the deepest part of the channel and rubbed their bodies vigorously with sand and clay to remove the odor of man. Then slowly, soundlessly, they converged on the mammoths from two directions.
Heads barely above the surface, they stole closer to their enormous prey, step by cautious step, clutching their spears, groping for firm footing on the shifting sands. When they were a hundred yards away they paused, still unobserved. Across the grasslands, on the distant bluff, they could discern their women holding unlit brands of wood and brush. Now the leader straightened up and raised his hand. From behind a clump of spruce a woman appeared, holding a single burning bough. She touched it in turn to the other brands, and the slope glittered with tiny flecks of flame.