13,000-Year-Old Tusk Reveals the Life of ‘Fred’, a Dead in Battle Juggernaut

13,000-Year-Old Tusk Reveals the Life of ‘Fred’, a Dead in Battle Juggernaut

A mounted skeleton of the Buesching mastodon.

A mounted skeleton of the Buesching mastodon.
Photo: Eric Bronson, Michigan Photography

Researchers have detailed the gruesome life and death of a male behemoth that died 13,200 years ago by examining the chemical makeup of one of its tusks. The defense revealed that the behemoth grew up in the Great Lakes region and later in life made annual trips to a mating site in northeast Indiana – until he died there at age 34, after being stabbed in the face by another juggernaut.

behemoths (American mammoth) were proboscideans that roamed across North America before their extinction about 11,000 years ago. Animal migration patterns have previously been investigation using isotopes locked into their tooth enamel, but recent investigation of an individual’s right tusk shows in detail how the movements of male behemoths would change as the animals matured. The team’s research is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Certainly for behemoths, there has never been a study to examine changes in landscape use over the course of an individual’s lifetime over very many years, and certainly none that has indicated that it there are annual migrations that are seasonal,” Joshua Miller, a paleoecologist at the University of Cincinnati and lead author of the study, told Gizmodo in a phone call.

The animal studied by the team is called the Buesching mastodon, named after the family that owned the land on which it was found (and who later donated the specimen to the Indiana State Museum). This is nicknamed Fredaccording to a member of the Buesching family.

Although Fred (the juggernaut) died over 13,000 years ago, details of his travels could still be extracted from isotopes of his 9.5ft tusk.

Isotopes of elements like oxygen and strontium have natural abundances that differ with time and location. Because these elements are found in soils and waterways, living things (mastodons, humans, Neanderthals, etc.) consume them, giving researchers a way to track the movements of ancient beings. Because mastodon tusks are really elongated teeth, the same scientific techniques can be applied to them.

A researcher manipulates mastodon tusk in a laboratory.

Fisher manipulating Fred’s right defense.
Photo: Daniel Fisher

Based on tusk isotopes, the term determined that the male behemoth began roaming the Great Lakes region when he separated from his herd at age 12. (Some elephant herds today are matriarchal; mastodon herds may have operated the same way.)

“There’s this home range growth as the animal goes through adolescence,” Miller said. “As [an adult] male, he is doing something very, very different than when the young male was closer to the maternal herd. Fred died nearly 100 miles from his home territory, indicating the large range of the 8-ton adult.

Prior to this study, researchers knew “essentially bupkis” about how individual extinct animals interacted with their environment seasonally, Miller said, and for mastodons, life revolved around seasonal changes.

Like elephants, female mastodons had long gestation periods of around 22 months. The females gave birth to large behemoth babies in the spring, to ensure that their young could absorb as many nutrients as possible before the onset of the following winter.

The males were also trying to find mates in the spring – hence how the recently studied behemoth ended up in what is now northeastern Indiana. According to Daniel Fisher, a paleontologist at the University of Michigan, even if a fight between male mastodons was not fatal (as was the case with Fred), when the male mastodons fought, their tusks essentially twisted in their sockets, retarding growth. nascent cells at the base of tusks.

“Every time spring comes, we get an arc of these faults which represents damage to the defenses [in male specimens]”, Fisher said. The team was able to read the defenses chronologically and was able to align the spring on the damage caused by battles with competitors.

A mastodon jawbone from El Salvador.

Ancient tooth isotopes reveal the animal’s past movements.
Photo: Daniel LeClaire (Getty Images)

The team discovered that Fred traveled to the same location in Indiana every year for the last three years of his 34-year-old life. They also confirmed that Fred had never ventured into this area until adulthood, further evidence that it may have been mating ground. Fred’s last trip ended in a fatal fight with another male, over the puncture wound on the side of his head.

“I have at least half a dozen individuals who have the same type of hole in the same place, sometimes to the left, sometimes to the right – in an awful case, on both sides,” Fisher said, indicating the extent for whom combat was an integral part of the lives of behemoths.

These findings “perfectly match” what others have theorized about how the behemoths roamed, Miller said.

Now the researchers plan to study isotopes in other tusks, to get a better idea of ​​how mastodons migrated more generally and whether the Indiana specimen had a typical or superlative amount of miles on its legs. stocky. Future work may show whether Fred was the rule or an exception to how male behemoths lived.

More: Monumental DNA study reveals secrets of North American behemoths

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