Did The South American Gomphothere Survive Until The 19th Century?

blessmycottonsocks

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The Gomphothere, also known as the American Mastodon, is an extinct south and central American proboscidean, resembling the elephant and is thought to have become extinct 8 to 10,000 years ago.

gomp.JPG

And yet, this pottery artefact from Tiahuanaco has been dated to around 800 AD.

gomp2.JPG

Furthermore, in his Journal of a Residence and Travels in Colombia During the Years 1823 and 1824, explorer Captain Charles Stuart Cochrane R.N., who had resided and travelled in Colombia for some time, recorded sightings of "carnivorous elephants," (i.e. mastodons, which were then suspected of having been carnivorous) in the Colombian Andes near Cartago, just below the snow line.
“From a small chain of hills, near to this range of mountains [the Cordillera Occidental], with a good glass, have been seen numbers of the carnivorous elephants, feeding on the plains which skirt these frozen regions: their enormous teeth have occasionally been seen; but no one has yet succeeded in killing one of these animals, or, indeed, in getting near to them."
 

Mythopoeika

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Carnivorous elephants? That's new (or old).
 

maximus otter

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Furthermore, in his Journal of a Residence and Travels in Colombia During the Years 1823 and 1824, explorer Captain Charles Stuart Cochrane R.N., who had resided and travelled in Colombia for some time, recorded sightings of "carnivorous elephants," (i.e. mastodons, which were then suspected of having been carnivorous) in the Colombian Andes near Cartago, just below the snow line.
“From a small chain of hills, near to this range of mountains [the Cordillera Occidental], with a good glass, have been seen numbers of the carnivorous elephants, feeding on the plains which skirt these frozen regions: their enormous teeth have occasionally been seen; but no one has yet succeeded in killing one of these animals, or, indeed, in getting near to them."

My knowledge of Colombian wildlife is zero, but five minutes’ Googling suggests a misidentification of the mountain tapir:

1920px-Tapirus_pinchaque_portrait.jpg


Size: Up to 550lbs/250kg
“Trunk”? Check.
“Tusks”? Seen through Georgian optics, that white mouth could look tusk-y.
Also, it’s the only tapir to live outside rainforests.

maximus otter
 
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blessmycottonsocks

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My knowledge of Colombian wildlife is zero, but five minutes’ Googling suggests a misidentification of the mountain tapir:

1920px-Tapirus_pinchaque_portrait.jpg


Size: Up to 550lbs/250kg
“Trunk”? Check.
“Tusks”? Seen through Georgian optics, that white mouth could look tusk-y.
Also, it’s the only tapir to live outside rainforests.

maximus otter

I'd be hard pushed to mistake a tapir for a mastodon, even through a dodgy lorgnette.

Here's a south American pottery model of a tapir:
tapir.JPG

and here's the pottery model from Tiahuanaco of something much more mastodon-like:
gomp2.JPG

In both cases, the sculptor seems to have done a decent job of capturing the fundamental essence of the creature. I don't believe a mastodon/gomphothere could be realistically sculpted from studying its bones alone, so I was speculating that one citizen of Tiahuanaco, around the year 800, may have actually set eyes on a living gomphothere. And if they were around in the year 800, is it not conceivable that a few may have survived for another thousand years in the remote mountain regions explored by Cochrane?
 

maximus otter

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I'd be hard pushed to mistake a tapir for a mastodon, even through a dodgy lorgnette.

Here's a south American pottery model of a tapir:
View attachment 30203

and here's the pottery model from Tiahuanaco of something much more mastodon-like:
View attachment 30204

In both cases, the sculptor seems to have done a decent job of capturing the fundamental essence of the creature. I don't believe a mastodon/gomphothere could be realistically sculpted from studying its bones alone, so I was speculating that one citizen of Tiahuanaco, around the year 800, may have actually set eyes on a living gomphothere. And if they were around in the year 800, is it not conceivable that a few may have survived for another thousand years in the remote mountain regions explored by Cochrane?

My reading of the section you quote is that Cochrane himself didn’t see the “carnivorous elephant”, but was relating a third-party sighting. The report also states that no-one had got close to them.

Clay models of weird animals in South America are often unreliable records; do we know the provenance of the elephant for sure?

maximus otter
 

blessmycottonsocks

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My reading of the section you quote is that Cochrane himself didn’t see the “carnivorous elephant”, but was relating a third-party sighting. The report also states that no-one had got close to them.

Clay models of weird animals in South America are often unreliable records; do we know the provenance of the elephant for sure?

maximus otter

I found a little more info and a different view of the artefact here:

gonk3.JPG
 

EnolaGaia

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The Tiahuanaco black ware artifact is much more elephant-like than mastodon-like.

The mystery hump(s) on its back are strange. They may be the rim of an opening, but no photo of this item shows the figure's back. I mention this because hollow black ware figures with spout extensions aren't uncommon in Peruvian / Bolivian craft traditions.

The seams / lines on the figure's sides can be interpreted in such a way that the humps represent a saddle.

Without clear identification of the artifact, its discovery location and provenance there's no solid basis for ruling out the possibility of a modern fake or souvenir ceramic for the tourist trade.

This artifact is cited and discussed on multiple sites, but no one seems to be able to provide any details about it.
 

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blessmycottonsocks

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This is why the mastodon was originally thought to be carnivorous (or omnivorous at least):
mastodon.JPG

Those pointed teeth (mastodon means breast or nipple-shaped teeth) sure looked like they were designed for tearing flesh.
It was only some time later, after samples of mastodon dung were analysed, that scientists found only vegetation in their diet and concluded that those vicious looking fangs were used to shear off and masticate leafy branches.
 

blessmycottonsocks

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Further possible mammoth/mastodon/gomphothere artefacts were unearthed in the 19th century by a farmer in Iowa and are thought to be contemporaneous with the mound building civilisation, making them at least a thousand years old. One of the earthworks is even known as The Elephant Mound.

mound1.JPGmound2.JPG

Some experts have dismissed the sandstone pipes as being of more recent European origin, but there's a detailed (if fairly long and rambling) assessment of their authenticity here:


https://collections.nlm.nih.gov/catalog/nlm:nlmuid-101208514-bkmound3.JPG
 

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blessmycottonsocks

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Quite apart from the wrong type of teeth, do vegetarian creatures, ruminants etc., have the right type of gut flora to properly digest meat?

Dentition alone isn't necessarily a good indicator of diet.

Look at the sharp gnashers on this beast:

skull.JPG

Can you guess what it is?

Fruit bat (the clue to its diet is in the name).
 

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Oh, thats a good one.

But wernt they descended from more traditionally dieted ancestors?
 

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The sheep on Boreray eat bones. (`A Mosaic of Islands` by Williamson and Boyd)
 

lordmongrove

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Quite apart from the wrong type of teeth, do vegetarian creatures, ruminants etc., have the right type of gut flora to properly digest meat?
You wouldn't think so but deer, sheep, hippos and elephants have been known to eat meat such as carrion and ground nesting birds. Many do it for the calcium intake. A week or so back i posted film of armadillos, who generally eat insects and fruit, killing lambs and calfs.
 

blessmycottonsocks

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You wouldn't think so but deer, sheep, hippos and elephants have been known to eat meat such as carrion and ground nesting birds. Many do it for the calcium intake. A week or so back i posted film of armadillos, who generally eat insects and fruit, killing lambs and calfs.

I am not aware of any evidence that the mastodon, or indeed any proboscidea, were routinely carnivorous. Coprolite evidence points at a 100% herbivorous diet (despite the extreme outlier of the Bertha Walt case above).
 

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There's always the chance that the mastodon (etc.) form was handed down via mythology or lore from the time when ancestors actually encountered them. Mastodons were extant in North and Central America - the regions through which human dissemination in the Americas flowed on the way to South America - during the timeframes when people were passing through there.
 

blessmycottonsocks

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There's always the chance that the mastodon (etc.) form was handed down via mythology or lore from the time when ancestors actually encountered them. Mastodons were extant in North and Central America - the regions through which human dissemination in the Americas flowed on the way to South America - during the timeframes when people were passing through there.

Possibly. Just as European werewolf legends may be partially remembered ancestral encounters with megafaunal canids, or dragons could be faintly recalled encounters with, well who knows? (I'll leave that one for lordmongrove).

8,000 years is an awful long time to pass down fairly detailed descriptions of such creatures though and I still quite like the possibility of a bold Mayan mahout riding a domesticated gomphothere, being depicted some 1,500 years ago.
 

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I am not aware of any evidence that the mastodon, or indeed any proboscidea, were routinely carnivorous. Coprolite evidence points at a 100% herbivorous diet (despite the extreme outlier of the Bertha Walt case above).
They are not routinely carnivorous, the Bertha Walt case is the only one i know of.
 

blessmycottonsocks

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They are not routinely carnivorous, the Bertha Walt case is the only one i know of.

Agreed. Whilst it is indeed possible that a mastodon may have gnawed on a hunter that had jabbed it with a spear, the original nomenclature of "carnivorous elephant" , based on the tooth shape, has been thoroughly debunked.
 

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They are not routinely carnivorous, the Bertha Walt case is the only one i know of.

https://abcnews.go.com/International/tigers-elephants-attacking-humans-india/story?id=12932647

<<
These villagers are also unable to protect themselves because as Hindus, they worship elephants and can't kill them. However, Salmoni said that local wildlife officials were granted special permission to take out one particularly violent female elephant that reportedly killed 17 people.

Her necropsy revealed that this herbivore had consumed human remains. Shocked, animal specialists believed that this elephant had been driven over the edge when her young calf was being chased in a rice field by villagers.

"I think maternal instinct is something we all relate to," Salmoni said. "We all know how a human mother would react if she has to protect her baby.">>
 

lordmongrove

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https://abcnews.go.com/International/tigers-elephants-attacking-humans-india/story?id=12932647

<<
These villagers are also unable to protect themselves because as Hindus, they worship elephants and can't kill them. However, Salmoni said that local wildlife officials were granted special permission to take out one particularly violent female elephant that reportedly killed 17 people.

Her necropsy revealed that this herbivore had consumed human remains. Shocked, animal specialists believed that this elephant had been driven over the edge when her young calf was being chased in a rice field by villagers.

"I think maternal instinct is something we all relate to," Salmoni said. "We all know how a human mother would react if she has to protect her baby.">>

Wow, that';s anew one on me. Thanks.
 
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