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Somebody stabbed a mastodon 14,000 years ago. Now, its remains will be housed in Tacoma

All Manny Manis wanted to do that August day in 1977 was dig a pond. Instead, the Sequim bowling alley owner unearthed a mastodon that eventually rewrote human history in North America.

Now, the artifacts associated with that discovery — over 50 cartons of bones, ivory, teeth, soil samples, stone tools, photographs, field notes and more — belong to the Washington State Historical Society.

The Tacoma-based organization announced Wednesday that Clare Manis Hatler, Manis’s widow, had donated the collection to the Historical Society.

The society’s museum on Pacific Avenue in downtown Tacoma will eventually display some of the artifacts, but no dates have been chosen, spokeswoman Julianna Verboort said on Wednesday.

“Some of the pieces are still with a scientist who is conducting research,” Verboort said.

In 1977, the mastodon was investigated by Washington State University researcher Carl Gustafson. The claims he made — that the mastodon had been struck in its rib by a spear — was met with skepticism in the scientific world. It took 35 years for his claim to be proven.

WHAT WAS A MASTODON?

Distantly related to modern-day elephants, mastodons inhabited North America until they may have been hunted into extinction about 10,500 years ago.

Mastodons were distinct from mammoths, which co-existed at the same time in North America. Both species had hair and tusks, but the mammoth was bigger, weighing it at 10 tons.

Two of the first things Manis dug up in 1977 were the creature’s giant tusks.

Gustafson arrived at the site just a few days after Manis made his discovery. The researcher thought he’d be there only a few days, he told The Seattle Times in 1977. In actuality, he would spend the next nine summers there.

Gustafson claimed that the animal had been hunted about 13,800 years ago. That claim pushed back the human time line in North America earlier than known.

Gustafson noted that its skull lay rotated 180 degrees from its body. Other bones were broken and scored, which he took as more evidence of human involvement.

Only in 2011 did researchers confirm that the mastodon’s bones were 13,800 years old and that the spear had indeed been human-made — from another mastodon bone.

Manis died in 2000 and Gustafson died in 2016.

“I dedicate this gift to two great men,” Hatler said of her donation.

Manis had wanted the discovery shared with the public.

“He wanted everyone to participate in and learn about the wonderful discoveries made daily during the dig,” she said. She called Gustafson a dedicated professional, “who invested over 30 years of his life into revealing the site’s mysteries, without expectation of accolades or financial gain.”

The Historical Society is grateful for the donation, they said.

“It is one of the three most important archaeological finds in Washington State history, the others being the East Wenatchee Clovis site and the Ancient One (Kennewick man),” said Lynette Miller, head of collections for the Historical Society.

Craig Sailor has worked for The News Tribune for 20 years as a reporter, editor and photographer. He previously worked at The Olympian and at other newspapers in Nevada and California.
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