Dennis Cassinelli: Did Native American Indians ever hunt mammoths in Nevada?

I have written about prehistoric mammoth hunting in previous columns. Today, I want to explore the possibility that prehistoric people living in what is now Nevada may have actually hunted these now extinct pachyderms and used them for food and other resources.

When I was a Nevada Department of Transportation employee back in the 1970s, I witnessed the discovery of a large mammoth tusk at the Rose Creek Gravel pit west of Winnemucca. At the time of the discovery, no other bones or any sign of human activity were found at the site.

Another time, I discovered the fossilized jawbone and teeth of a juvenile mammoth on a construction site near the west Winnemucca Interstate 80 interchange. I reported the find to Nevada State Museum personnel to investigate, but no other remains were found.

These and other discoveries of mammoth remains have been quite common in Nevada, as well as in surrounding states. It is generally agreed by archaeologists that mammoths were hunted by human beings during the Holocene or Late Pleistocene era in areas adjacent to Northern Nevada. This determination has been made due to the discovery of large clovis points being found associated with mammoth remains in areas in Idaho, California and Oregon, where mammoth remains have been found. Clovis points were the weapon of choice for mammoth hunters. They are large, fluted stone points that had been hafted on a lance to bring down the large mammoths. In addition, there were cut marks on some of the mammoth bones indicating they had, indeed, been butchered by human hands. So far as I know, none of these sites have yet been located in Nevada.

At several locations in the Great Basin of Nevada, including the Black Rock Desert, mammoth remains have been found. One of these, a huge Columbian mammoth, is displayed at the Nevada State Museum in Carson City. Clovis points also have been found at several locations in Nevada dating back to about the same time as the mammoth remains. Since clovis points were used primarily for mammoth hunting, simple logic would indicate the points had been used for mammoth hunting here as well.

Archaeologists are not encouraged to use simple logic. Until an archaeologist actually discovers a mammoth skeleton with clovis points in its bones or positively identified as having been used in the killing of the mammoth, they will not make the statement that early man hunted the beasts in the Great Basin of Nevada.

My point here is that you can prove a positive, but you cannot prove a negative. If you find a mammoth skeleton without clovis points present, it is not proof that human hunters did not kill the animal. Absence of proof is not proof of absence. However, if a mammoth is discovered with evidence that clovis points were used for the kill, it is proof.

I do believe there will be mammoth remains discovered here in Nevada some day with evidence human beings killed the animal based on the number of clovis points that have been found in the region. Another explanation for the widespread clovis points in Nevada is that they might have been used for large game animals other than mammoths.

Much of this information is from my book, “Uncovering Archaeology.” I have also written a fictional story about Nevada mammoth hunting in my book, “Legends of Spirit Cave.”

This article is by Dayton author and historian Dennis Cassinelli, who can be contacted on his blog at All of Cassinelli’s books sold through this publication will be at a discount plus $3 for each shipment for postage and packaging.


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