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Researchers Hunt For What Killed Ice Age Moose

Talk about a cold case. The male victim died more than 10,000 years ago and left behind few clues beneath the thick clay in rural Medina County. But one of those clues is intriguing.

Talk about a cold case.
     
The male victim died more than 10,000 years ago and left behind few clues beneath the thickclay in rural Medina County.
     
But one of those clues is intriguing.
     
It's a humerus, a long forelimb bone, and it's got a hole on one side and grooves on theother.
     
Maybe it's a bite wound. And maybe, just maybe, the stag moose was killed by a predator thathad long disappeared from these parts.
     
"If we can show the marks on this bone are from a short-faced bear, it would be the secondrecord of the animal in Ohio," said Bob Glotzhober, senior curator of natural history at the OhioHistorical Society.
     
Other suspects include the dire wolf as well as wolves and bears like those we see today.
     
"We're going to try to do Pleistocene forensics," said Greg McDonald, senior curator ofnatural history at the National Park Service.
     
The stag moose fossils being studied by the Historical Society are on loan from Ryan King, aflooring contractor who owns a horse farm near Chippewa Lake.
     
King is building a riding arena, and last month had contractor Tyler Underwood begin to digup hard clay for the base.
     
Underwood dug down about 16 feet and brought up pieces of antlers and a part of the skullcalled the brain case.
     
He knew he had something, maybe a giant moose, and made some phone calls.
     
Eventually he reached the Historical Society and Glotzhober.
     
Glotzhober called assistant curators of archaeology Linda Pansing and Bill Pickard and headednorth. With Underwood, the scientists spent two days digging an additional 2 feet and found partsof the jaw and leg bones.
     
"I was hoping it would be a woolly mammoth skeleton, worth a couple million dollars," Kingsaid. "But, I can tell everybody we have a 16,000-year-old moose."
     
That's good enough for Glotzhober.
     
"Scientifically, it's very valuable."
     
Stag moose, or Cervalces scotti, stood slightly taller and had longer legs than today'smoose. Their heads resembled elks' and their antlers could have been a cross between the two.
     
This is the ninth time stag moose remains have been found in Ohio, and thesecond-most-complete set of bones.
     
So far, the bones are talking a bit.
     
For example, the antlers tell Glotzhober the stag moose died during a warm month. Like itsmodern cousins, the mammal shed its antlers between spring and fall.
     
And its teeth say it was 4 or 5 years old.
     
In all, 34 pieces were dug out of the pit. Most of the other stag moose remains found in thestate have consisted of one or two bones.
     
The exception is a female skeleton that's 80 percent complete. It was dug up in Stark Countyin 1987.
     
The most recent known remains discovered before the Chippewa find are 10,230 years old. Theoldest are 11,990 years old. Glotzhober said these new bones might be older, because the remainswere buried much deeper than the others.
     
During the Pleistocene, this part of Ohio looked a lot like  Yellowstone National Park,said Kenneth Tankersley, an anthropologist at the University of Cincinnati.
     
There were woolly mammoths, mastadons, giant sloths and other big mammals.
     
And there were likely Homo sapiens.
     
"We think people overlapped with the stag moose," said Bradley Lepper, curator of archaeologyat the Historical Society.
     
He said small groups of hunters and gatherers, called Paleoindians, were known to huntmastodons, and researchers believe they hunted the stag moose as well.
     
During the past few weeks, the bones were wrapped in damp cloth, allowing them to dry slowlyto avoid cracking.
     
In the same layer of dirt where the bones were discovered, the scientists found seeds andtiny shells.
     
In Columbus, Pansing and Pickard have been separating the tiny finds and are planning to sendthem to experts who they hope will tell them what kinds of plants, snails and mollusks existed atthe time the stag moose died.
     
Now, about that bite.
     
McDonald is arranging a comparison, or police lineup of sorts. He is having modern moosebones that wolves and grizzlies have snacked on in Alaska sent to Columbus.
     
In addition, Glotzhober and McDonald plan to study cow bones that were fed to big cats, bearsand wolves in zoos.
     
Each animal, they say, has a telltale bite pattern.
     
Glotzhober's quietly hoping the damage to this bone doesn't match animals from today but wascaused by a larger, ancient animal, perhaps the short-faced bear.
     
Despite the detective work, Glotzhober said he doubts they'll be able to tell if the animalthat made the bite marks killed the stag moose or scavenged the carcass.
     
But they still might have something exciting to researchers.
     
"With the stag moose, as far as I know, no one has actually said that 'this genus andspecies' was eaten by 'this genus and species,' " said Gary Haynes, an anthropology professor atthe University of Nevada at Reno.
     
Haynes has been studying predator-prey relationships using the bite marks on bones and fossilbones for 30 years.
     
"If they can say something like that, it's a new discovery. Instead of guessing, we'd havesome direct evidence."
     
The scientists hope to send out a piece of bone for carbon dating, to tell how old it is, andto test for various isotopes, which would reflect the animal's diet.
     
Pickard said they'd like to go back to the pit and search for the rib cage and more, but hedoesn't know if there is money in the budget for more digging.
     
"The bones are in excellent condition," he said. "We can refit them if we have enough parts."
     
King said he's leaning toward donating the bones to the Historical Society. He said he'd liketo work out a trade: maybe a mounted moose or elk head to hang over his fireplace in return.