JOHNSVILLE — Dr. Richard M. “Mike” Gramly takes digging in the dirt quite seriously and he’s been doing it a long time.
The 71-year-old retired anthropology professor with a Ph.D. from Harvard spent a week in Morrow County recently helping unearth and identify mastodon remains and tools associated with that era thousands of years ago.
“I started digging when I was 9 years old. It’s all I ever wanted to do,” he said.
Gramly came here at the invitation of property owner Clint Walker. The diggers called him “Doc.”
“These animals had left the Earth by 12,200 years ago so it’s at least that old,” Gramly said. “The bone probably doesn’t have much collagen in it which makes it difficult for carbon dating. It could be from 13,500 years ago.”
This is a pilot dig, Gramly emphasized. In 2014 a group of Ashland University students led by Nigel Brush, associate professor of geology, did three days of digging at the site.
“A site like this is important enough that if you feel there is more to be learned there you want to check it out,” Gramly said.
Walker got the process started when he was putting in drainage tile and accidentally found something in his field.
“It was a tooth almost as big as your foot laying on top of the backhoe,” he recalled.
Walker looked up photos on the Internet and it turned out to be a mastodon tooth.
“I Googled it and the photo of what I saw online could have been our tooth. It got me excited,” he said.
Walker also contacted the Ohio Historical Society. His partner on the project has been Scott Donaldson.
It is named the Cedar Creek Mastodon of Morrow County. “We name them after the nearest body of water in the area,” Gramly said.
Brush wasn’t convinced there was human association with this animal, according to Gramly. “I felt otherwise,” he said.
The proof, Gramly maintains, is there are pieces of bone with cut marks likely from a stone axe. “The hand of man is on this animal,” he says without hesitation.
There is only a small window of time 10,000 to 11,000 years ago when mastodons and humans would have both been alive in the area, Brush said in a previous newspaper interview.
Gramly said that groups of people living in the region — tribes — would combine forces to bring down the giant animals, which could weigh 8 to 10 tons if they were bulls.
“This was an organized effort to kill this animal with precision and care. It was a very dangerous enterprise.”
Gramly estimates a group of as many as 30 people would work to bring down the mastodon. Spear throwers were used to launch spears at the Proboscideans, some of whom were 50 to 60 years old.
“It was part of a ceremony every 7 to 9 years; a social ritual … a manhood ritual for young men. People needed this type of organized activity.”
“Finding these bones and ivory artifacts is rare,” Gramly said.
Most artifacts are found about 14-16 inches below the surface.
“This is history. It’s too good not to do it,” Walker shared as a group of about 30 people worked in small groups on his farmland.
So far, Walker has accumulated roughly 120 pounds of skeletal components.
“A cadre of people are taking part in the dig,” Gramly said. Residents of Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Alabama and New York joined Ohioans during the second week of August.
Among them was Lucas resident Jerry Ball, a veteran Indian artifact collector and digger.
“It’s just finding something new and trying to relate to people thousands of years ago,” he said. “We find mainly stone tools and bone.”
Natalie Taylor came with her son, Nate, and her parents, Jerry and Harriet Botdorf from Cleveland.
“My parents have been with Dr. Gramly on some excavations, including the one in New York” Taylor said. “We came down to help, just moving dirt and finding some amazing things.”
Numerous mastodon remains have been found throughout Ohio.
What was dug up on Walker’s farm will be analyzed and catalogued.
“This would be the 17th case in North America of a mastodon having direct association with humans,” Gramly said.
“There was gray soil on the bone, which means it may have been killed on the edge of the pond. With time, bones disappear or become fragmented. Some escape complete destruction.”
Farming implements often break off the tops of the bones with more remaining under the soil.
The dig may resume in May 2018, depending on what research of this dig shows.
“This is the Ice Ages here. It’s very exciting to me. There are some wonderful things here,” Gramly said.
Reach Conchel of The Morrow County Sentinel at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 419-946-3010, extension 1806. The Sentinel and the Urbana Daily Citizen are both owned by the same newspaper company.