Manis Mastodon Site

Manis Mastodon Site

Drawing of a mastodon skeleton by Rembrandt Peale
Nearest city Sequim, Washington
NRHP Reference #


Added to NRHP March 21, 1978

The Manis Mastodon site is a 2-acre (1 ha) archaeological site on the Olympic Peninsula near Sequim, Washington, United States. During the dig, the remains of an American mastodon was recovered which had a projectile made of the bone from a different mastodon embedded in its rib. The site was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.


On August 8, 1977, a farmer named Emanuel Manis was excavating his property with a backhoe, when he found the tusks of an American mastodon.[2] After making several calls, Manis soon had an archaeological dig on his property, led by Dr. Carl Gustafson of Washington State University. On the first day of digging, a rib bone was excavated, that had what appeared to be a spear point made from the bone of a different mastodon embedded in it. The "spear point" had bone growth around it, indicating that the point had not caused the mastodon's death.[3] Because of this, Gustafson deemed the point the earliest known evidence of interaction between humans and mastodons. However, there was no consensus in the archaeological field as to whether or not this was provable,[4] because of the lack of indisputable proof that the point was made by humans.[5] This situation changed in 2011, when a new study of the remains definitively concluded that Gustafson was right as to both the age and the human origin of the point.[6] Along with the point, Gustafson analyzed the position of the 6,800-kilogram (14,991 lb)[3] fossil, which was lying on its left side, while the heavily fragmented skull was rotated 180 degrees from its natural position. Noting that this could not have occurred due to natural causes, Gustafson deduced that the carcass must have been tampered with by humans.[7] In addition to the possible evidence of human/mastodon interaction, archaeologists were surprised to find a mastodon in the area at all, because pollen samples that were taken showed no evidence of trees, which mastodons fed on.[8]

In an excavated layer above the mastodon, as well as that of a 6,700-year-old deposit of ash from the eruption of Mount Mazama, a projectile-point was found in the style of Coastal Olcott points common in the area no earlier than 9,000 years ago.[9]

The site also turned up remains of caribou, bison, and plant macrofossils.[10] Bones of the bison showed evidence of butchering by humans.[11] The pollen found in the same layer as the mastodon was predominantly sedge and cattail, while other layers contained that of plants ranging from Canadian buffaloberry, blackberry and wild rose, to willow and alder.[12]

Gustafson continued to excavate at the site for eight years, finding the partial remains of two more mastodons. Though stone tools and artifacts of bone were found, Gustafson failed to find evidence of an encampment by the people theorized to have butchered the mastodons.[13]

Prior to the excavation at the Manis site, which was dated to around 12,000 years old,[14] archaeological sites west of the Cascade Range considered to be "early" were aged between 9,000 and 6,000 years old.[15]

During the years of excavation, Clare and Emanuel Manis welcomed over 50,000 visitors to the site. In 1978, when the site was added to the National Register of Historic Places, Senator Henry M. Jackson made the announcement.[13] In 2002, on the 25th anniversary of the discovery, Manis' widow donated the site to the National Archaeological Conservancy.[4] The fossil remains of the mastodon were donated to the Museum & Arts Center in Sequim and are now on display. A casting of the bone projectile point is also on display.

In Oct. 2011, CT scans and DNA tests performed at the Center of the Study of the First Americans (CSFA), Anthropology Department at Texas A&M University published findings about the spear point. The CT scans clearly established the spear point had been sharpened to a needle point by human hands. The DNA tests dated the Manis site at 13,800 years old. Since the 1950s, archaeologists have believed the Clovis people were the first human inhabitants of North America and that they lived here 13,000 years ago. However the discovery of sites pre-dating Clovis, such as Monte Verde in Chile and Meadowcroft Rockshelter in Pennsylvania, have been challenging this presumption at least since the 1990s.[16] The Manis Mastodon Site is 800 years older than the Clovis people. This site, among others, is helping to change the long-held beliefs of many archaeologists about the earliest human inhabitants of North America. The Manis Mastodon Site remains the oldest archaeological site on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State and one of the oldest in North America.

In November 2011, Shirley Manis, daughter of discoverer Emanuel Manis, authored the first and only children's picture book about the Manis Mastodon Site, which includes the most recent research analysis.[17]


  1. National Park Service (2007-01-23). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service.
  2. Barton 2002, p. 50
  3. 1 2 Barton 2002, p. 51
  4. 1 2 Tom Paulson (August 9, 2002). "Still unresolved: The puzzle of the mastodon's bones". Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Retrieved 2008-02-07.
  5. McMillan 1999, p. 104
  6. Sindya N. Bhanoo (October 20, 2011). "Big-Game Hunt Adds to Evidence of Early North American Settlement". New York Times. Retrieved 2011-10-11.
  7. Bergland 1988, p. 21
  8. Barton 2002, p. 55
  9. Bergland 1988, p. 27
  10. Kenneth L. Petersen; Peter J. Mehringer, Jr.; Carl E. Gustafson (September 1983). "Late-glacial vegetation and climate at the Manis Mastodon site, Olympic Peninsula, Washington". Quaternary Research. 20 (2): 215–231. doi:10.1016/0033-5894(83)90078-9. Cite uses deprecated parameter |coauthors= (help)
  11. Bergland 1988, p. 24
  12. Kirk 1978, p. 28
  13. 1 2 Kirk 2007, p. 11
  14. Kirk 2007, p. 10
  15. Kirk 1978, p. 82
  16. Meltzer (2009)
  17. Shirley Manis, In a Scoop of Dirt - How Digging a Pond Changed North America's Prehistory, 2011.


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