With no hunting license needed nor computer game check-in required, paleo-Indians still left the earliest-ever piece of evidence of Ice Age game killed in Ohio.
The Cleveland Museum of Natural History is reporting that cut marks found on Ice Age Jefferson ground sloth bones indicate that humans in Ohio hunted or scavenged animal meat earlier than previously known.
Brian Redmond, curator of archaeology at The Cleveland Museum of Natural History, was lead author on research published in the Feb. 22 online issue of the journal “World Archaeology.”
In their research the scientists analyzed 10 animal bones rediscovered in 1998 in the collections of the Firelands Historical Society Museum in Norwalk; a small, historical museum which has few natural history items.
Thus the bones were largely forgotten and placed in storage for more than 80 years.
Refound by society member and the report’s coauthor Matthew Burr, the bones were determined as coming from a Jefferson’s ground sloth. This large plant-eating animal became extinct at the end of the Ice Age around 10,000 years ago.
Based on measurements of the femur, tibia and other bones, the so-called “Firelands Ground Sloth” is one of the largest individuals of this species on record. It had an estimated body mass of 2,855 pounds and is one of only three specimens of Megalonyx jeffersonii known from Ohio.
During its heyday this species of now-extinct sloth was found from Florida to Alaska and is considered an Ice Age “megafauna.” It was a contemporary with the mastodon and giant beaver.
Redmond said also that the job of studying the bones and determining the creation of the cut marks was “quite a piece of detective work.”
“This research provides the first scientific evidence for hunting or scavenging of Ice Age sloth in North America,” said Redmond. “The significant age of the remains makes them the oldest evidence of prehistoric human activity in Ohio, occurring in the Late Pleistocene period.”
Specifically, a series of 41 incisions appear on the animal’s left femur. Radiocarbon dating of the femur bone estimates its age to be between 13,435 to 13,738 years old, give or take a decade or two.
And microscopic analyses of the cut marks revealed that stone tools made the marks, Redmond says.
Redmond says also that the pattern and location of the distinct incisions indicate “the filleting of leg muscles.”
“No traces of the use of modern, metal cutting tools were found, so the marks are not the result of damage incurred during their unearthing. Instead, the morphology of the marks reveals that they were made by sharp-edged stone flakes or blades,” said Redmond.
Probably the second oldest evidence of humans butchering animals in Ohio is the "Burning Tree Mastodon" in Newark, Redmond said as well.
“It was radiocarbon-dated at 13,000 years ago,” he said.
The Firelands sloth bones were first described in a 1915 scientific paper by geologist Oliver Hay. The collection was made known to Hay by Roe Niver, a University of Illinois student who lived in Huron County and died in July 1915, the History Museum says.
Museum scientists say also that the bones were donated to the Firelands Museum before 1915. The only documentation with the remains indicates they were found in a swamp in Norwich Township with the exact locality where the bones were first discovered is uncertain.
For more information about the Jefferson ground sloth - including how it got its name - visit: http://www.beringia.com/research/ground_sloth.html and also http://www.robinsonlibrary.com/science/geology/paleontology/gsloth.html.
Jeffrey L. Frischkorn