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AN ARIZONA HUNT
A big, new prehistoric find reveals relics of the earliest hunt yet chronicled in America: a mammoth kill by Llano men 10,000 years ago, described for the first time
From the distant day in the dawn-light of prehistory when man became man, down from the trees and walking erect on the ground, he has been a hunter. And he has been the most successful hunter the world has ever known. The paradox of his situation is that he came into being bereft of all the natural armament of the hunting animal—no claws, no tusks, no tearing fangs and no protective coat of fur. But, endowed with an inventive brain, he made tools which served as substitutes for the bodily weapons he lacked.
For more than 95% of his entire span on earth—perhaps 750,000 years—man remained the most implacable predator and carnivore in the animal kingdom. It was only yesterday, as human history is measured, that he abandoned the hunter's life for that of the farmer, the herder, the trader or the craftsman. To this day his sensory equipment is adapted to the hunter's calling. He is farsighted and tends to become more so as he grows older; his mental and muscular reflexes are swift; he has both courage and the willingness to fight and die for his fellow man. Although the exigencies of urban life impair these assets, his hunter's instincts still persist. And he gratifies them in various ways—in athletic and business competition, in scientific research and exploration and in fishing and hunting for sport.
It is probable that early man, who hunted wild game for food, also regarded hunting as sport. From the beginning he found himself in competition with the largest mammals that ever trod the earth: the mastodon, the mammoth, the saber-toothed tiger, the dire wolf and the giant ground sloth. All of these mighty beasts are now extinct—no one knows why. Some scientists have attributed their disappearance to changes in climate and vegetation or to diseases; still others have guessed that the agent of their destruction was man. It is a curious coincidence that the strongest, most splendid animals that flourished on the North American continent at the end of the ice age vanished forever shortly after man's immigration from the Old World about 20,000-15,000 B.C. On every continent there remain traces of his hunting activity—the bones of his prey, the stone weapons he used to kill them and the charcoal remains of the campfires over which he cooked them.
A few weeks ago, out of the high desert ranges of Arizona, there came an account of one of the most exciting hunts that ever took place on earth. The prey was mammoth—a powerful, long-tusked ancestor of the modern elephant. The huntsmen were prehistoric Americans who wandered the western plains about 8000 B.C. The record of their prowess would never have come to light, however, had it not been for the skill of another band of American hunters in 1955-56 A.D. In effect, there were two hunts for the same quarry, separated by an interval of 10,000 years.
The story of the second hunt should be told first.
One day four years ago a disenchanted Easterner named Edward Lehner eyed a tract of land in the San Pedro Valley of Arizona with the notion of acquiring it for a cattle ranch. Reared in New York State, he had worked several summers as a ranch hand in Arizona and had fallen in love with the desert country. After World War II, in which he served with the Third Army in France, he returned to Arizona and took a job in Tucson. In the fall of 1952 he heard of a small farm in the southeastern corner of the state, near the town of Hereford, a few miles above the Mexican border. Thinking it might serve as a nucleus which he might later expand into a larger holding, he drove down from Tucson one afternoon to look it over.
What he saw was a lovely expanse of Arizona rangeland, carpeted with golden grasses, spangled with green mesquite and cactus and fortified on three sides by the rocky crags and pinnacles of the Huachuca, San Jose and Mule Mountain ranges, soaring to more than 9,000 feet. He noted with interest that the 160 acres of his prospective property were dissected by an arroyo, a dry stream bed, eight or 10 feet deep, floored with sand and gravel and confined by vertical banks of reddish clay. On either side a few stunted cotton-wood trees clung precariously to life, lifting gnarled branches to the shimmering sky. The faces of both banks were clearly stratified, with sharply defined layers of clay, silt, sand and gravel. At their base Lehner observed an unusual dark layer of peatlike sediment. Being an educated man, with an A.B. degree from Colgate, graduate credits from Cornell and a lifelong interest in nature, he examined the dark band more closely. And then he saw something that made him blink. A giant tooth, or rather part of a tooth—a gigantic molar—yellow and crumbling, jutted from the peaty under-layer. Taking out a knife, he cautiously scraped away some of the peat, extracted the tooth and then dug some more. Soon he came across three more bone fragments. Reluctant to disturb what other relics might lie imbedded there, he stopped digging and returned to Tucson with his find.
The next day Lehner called at the Arizona State Museum and deposited the four pieces of bone on the desk of Dr. Emil W. Haury, director of the museum and head of the anthropology department at the University of Arizona, who immediately recognized them as a tooth plate and parts of the limb bones of a mammoth. It so happened that a few months earlier Dr. Haury had excavated the skeleton of a young adult mammoth in another stream bed only 12 miles away, near the border town of Naco. Its remains were at that moment on display in the museum, together with eight stone spear points which had been found among the ribs and vertebrae, indicating unmistakably that the mammoth had met death at the hands of man. Deeply interested in the relationship between prehistoric man and the big-game animals on which he depended for food, Dr. Haury decided at once to visit the site of Lehner's discovery. A few days later he drove down to Hereford and examined the banks of the arroyo. He attempted no extensive digging at the time, but preliminary probing convinced him that: 1) the geological stratum in which Lehner had found the bones was deposited at the same time as that in which the Naco mammoth reposed, and 2) the possibility of finding more bones together with human weapons warranted future investigation.