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Mammoth Rocks To Be Tested

MAMMOTHS MAY HAVE SCRATCHED ON SONOMA COAST ROCKS: TEXAS A&M WILL TEST SAMPLES, WHICH ARCHAEOLOGIST EXPECTS TO DATE BACK TO ICE AGE
Published on May 14, 2005
© 2005- The Press Democrat
By Bob Norberg

THE PRESS DEMOCRAT (Santa Rosa, California)

Samples from rock stacks on the Sonoma Coast will be sent to a Texas university for radiocarbon testing, part of an effort to prove the rocks served as prehistoric scratching posts for mammoths.

The scratching left the rocks with a polish that is still visible today.

``If I am right and the polish came from mammoths, they will be able to extract carbon and date it,'' state archaeologist Breck Parkman said. ``They should date to 15,000 to 30,000 years ago, the end of the last Ice Age.''

The tests at Texas A&M University are being underwritten by Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods, a Guerneville-based group that usually funds such programs as whale- and seal-watching trips.

It is the first time the group is funding archaeology work.

Parkman ``is finding things that date back thousands and thousands of years and are very exciting,'' said Michele Luna, executive director for the stewards. ``We feel compelled to support what he is doing, it is so significant for the coast.''

The group will spend about $120,000 this year on programs to help state parks, such as training 300 volunteers to lead nature walks at Armstrong Grove and Austin Creek, and whale- and seal-watching trips and tours of tide pools.

A small amount, $2,000, will be spent by the 20-year-old group to help fund Parkman's work.

Parkman said if his theory is correct, Texas A&M scientists should be able to find and extract some microscopic traces of carbon using a new process that was pioneered at that university.
 
``We are slowly building our case,'' Parkman said. ``Unless we find mammoth hair in the polish or invent a time machine to go back and watch a mammoth in the act, someone will always be able to doubt our theory. But we have evidence enough that we could convict a mammoth in court.''

Two years ago, Parkman discovered that Sunset Rock, a popular practice site for climbers, has a polished finish on much of the outside surface from the ground to a height of 14 feet.

He attributes it to Columbian mammoths and mastodons using the rocks as posts to scratch, which is common animal behavior that can be seen today with buffalo, horses and steers.

Since then, he has found seven other blueschist rocks within a mile of the 60-foot-high rock with similar markings.

Excavations have found the polish extends six feet under the surface, which is the amount of soil that would have built up around the rocks during the intervening thousands of years.

Herds of mammoths, mastodons and prehistoric horses are known to have frequented the coastal area, which was once a vast grassland and would have been seven miles from the ocean.

Mammoth bones have been discovered not far away at Bodega Bay.

Using an electron microscope at Sonoma State University, Parkman said experts have ruled out the possibility the polishing on the rock was due to wind or water.