|Ancient Mammoth Bones Discovered by David Wasion
in Kenosha , Wisconsin.
In 1992, Wasion independently discovered obvious human butcher marks on ancient mammoth bones stored in the basement of a museum. This led to
the discovery and excavation of the remains of two mammoths that were apparently butchered by pre-Clovis people.This event is one of the most
significant archaeological finds in North America.
In 1992 and 1994 two discoveries were made that have had a major impact on the scientific community. These finds, the Schaefer and Hebior mammoths,
were discovered and excavated in Kenosha County, Wisconsin.
The Discovers Accounts of How he found the Mammoth Bones, later leading into the excavation and discovery of several mammoths.
" I hadn't been back in the Kenosha area very long when I began to hear stories of giant mammoth- or mastodon-type bones that were discovered in Kenosha County many years ago. As a young
man, I got very excited about the prospect of making such a discovery or rediscovering something once found and long forgotten, but when I tried to find out where the discoveries were made, or
get any real solid details, no one seemed to know anything. The best information I could get was that many years earlier some bones had been displayed in the Kenosha County Courthouse. So I
inquired at the Courthouse, the logical place to start. No one working there could remember anything about old animal bones. I hit one dead-end after another until little by little I began to give up
Off and on over the next twenty years someone would mention those early discoveries and I would start to feel that old excitement. But then, as before, no one had the slightest clue to point me in
the right direction. I concentrated on more accessible archaeology in the eastern portion of Kenosha County, from the Des Plaines River east to the Lake Michigan shoreline and from the Illinois-
Wisconsin line north to Racine County. I occasionally worked out of the area, but, believe me, there's a lifetime's worth of research in that portion of Kenosha County alone.
In those early years there were no other local archaeologists active in this area. Working alone, I surveyed and reported a large number of sites that would prove to be significant. This work
allowed me to establish good relations with a number of locals and landowners. In the early 1970's I did some hunting on a piece of property where locals had been finding projectile points of
various kinds. I recognized it as a potential paleolithic site, and named it the Chesrow Site, after the land owner, the Chesrow Corporation out of Chicago. I reported it to the State of Wisconsin. Dr.
David Overstreet, of the Great Lakes Archaeological Research Center (GLARC) in Milwaukee, sent Mike Gregg to check it out. Gregg was impressed with the Chesrow Site and recommended it
for national recognition. Dr. Overstreet later contacted me to tell me that it had been accepted by the National Historic Register. After that, I worked as opportunity permitted for GLARC, as lithics
illustrator, map maker, site surveyor, excavator, site supervisor, and local expert consultant, among other things.
Chesrow was one of the sites I worked on with Dr. Overstreet. Mr. Dan Joyce, Curator of the Kenosha Public Museum, who was an anthropologist experienced in archaeology, also visited the site.
After that meeting I did a nominal amount of work for the Kenosha Public Museum, including the solo excavation of the Pike Site, which I discovered. I would periodically go and visit Mr. Joyce at
the Museum and he was always cordial and friendly, more than willing to share information and show me things stored in the museum's collection. He was fairly new in the area and always seemed
anxious to take time to talk.
The Road to Discovery
I did a considerable amount of work on my own, simply because I had a passion for archaeology, but also because, as before, no one else was very active in this area. In the middle of all my work I
always kept my eyes open for evidence of those giant bones that I knew had been discovered years earlier. In ravines, along riverbanks, anywhere that I thought I might stumble across a bone or
a portion of a large bone, that's where I looked. But having nothing substantial to go on, my search was in vain until one afternoon in 1992, when, as fate would have it, I was talking to a friend and
the conversation came around to those old bones again. My friend said that the bones might have been written about in the Kenosha News when they were first discovered. Could this be true? I
was apprehensive, but at the same time I believed after all those years I was staring my first real break right in the face.
The next day I went to the Kenosha Public Museum to talk with Mr. Joyce. I still didn't know him very well, but he seemed like an all right guy. So during our conversation I brought up the subject of
those old bones again and told him what I had heard. I said that I intended to go over to the Kenosha County Historical Society, where the old newspapers were kept on microfilm, and see if I could
find the stories that were printed when they were discovered. If I could find the old articles, I might find more information about the farms where they were originally found. That would open the
possibility of discovering the rest of the animals' remains and possibly lead to an excavation. Mr. Joyce thought it was a good idea. He told me the Historical Society was in the process of changing
hands and it might be a good time to go over and get acquainted with the new staff.
Then out of nowhere he surprised me with something he had never mentioned before. The museum had a map hand-drawn by Phil Sanders, a citizen scientist and former director of the Kenosha
County Historical Society, who had visited the Schaefer Farm when the bones were found there in 1964. Mr. Joyce also talked about the Fenske site and the Mud Lake site, where other bones
had been found. This was getting better by the minute. We had names, dates, approximate dates, and the strong possibility of a map. I asked him about the bones themselves. But like everyone
else he didn't have a clue what had happened to them after they were removed from display at the Courthouse. Even if we had the name of a farm, in all likelihood it would have changed hands
over the years, even if only from father to son. Memories wane, information is lost forever, people have passed away, and new or current owners haven't a clue. I needed substantial information. It
seemed clear to me that no one else was going to do anything about it. I was on my own. I had to find those old articles.
Secrets in the Museum Basement
I drove over to the Kenosha County Historical Society that same afternoon. At that time the Historical Society was located on the south side of town in a large, beautiful old house that had once
been a private home. A well dressed, elderly lady who was coming down the main staircase met me in the large foyer. I explained to her why I was there, and she directed me to their archives. I
was met there by a younger woman who told me she was part of the new staff.
I explained once more why I was there and asked if she could show me where to look at old newspaper articles. She showed me where to go, and I sat down and began the slow process of viewing
article after article after article. I seem to recall going back several times, but all I remember for sure is that I spent a great deal of time poring over that microfilm and finding absolutely nothing. I
was getting more than a little frustrated. Mr. Joyce had mentioned a couple of dates, and I'd exhausted those time periods plus every other possibility I could think of.
I sat there going over and over the old clippings. I noticed the young woman watching me from behind her desk. After some time she said, â€œExcuse me.â€� I stopped and looked at her. She
said she had just realized that in the early days of Kenosha there were two newspapers. The Kenosha News, the one I had been looking at, was the regular paper. Perhaps the other paper would
have carried the articles I was looking for. That would explain why I couldn't find the articles. I couldn't believe it, another newspaper! I was looking in the wrong newspaper. Frustration turned to
I asked her to show me where those microfilms were stored, which she gladly did. Hope turned to reward. I wasn't scanning this other paper more than ten minutes when I stumbled onto the first
article, a 1926 writeup about the Fenske bone discovery. After a very short hunt, I found the other articles. Within minutes, after all those years of searching, questioning, and frustration, the
Kenosha County mystery bones became a reality. I was elated.
After having copies made of the articles, I was walking out of the room when the young woman stopped me. She said they had been doing an inventory and, while cataloguing things in the
basement, had found a wooden box full of some very large, old bones. She offered to take me to the basement to see the bones if I was interested.
I quickly agreed. The basement lights weren't very bright, but I could see well enough. Things were strewn about here and there all over the floor. It was obvious a major inventory was in progress.
Things that hadn't been seen for many years were being pulled out, examined, and catalogued. â€œIt's over hereâ€�, she said, walking over to a large wooden box that had been pulled out and
separated from the rest of the collection. The lid was loose. I bent down and started removing it. As soon as I could make out the contents with the lid only half off, my hands started shaking. Inside
the box were very large bones darkened with age. They had the black-brown color that results only from lying in the muck and clay at the bottom of a swamp for thousands of years. We moved the
box under a light. As I knelt down for a closer look I felt my heart begin to race.
There on a large femur were a number of very obvious manmade cut marks. They were not microscopic hopefuls. They were cut marks made with such force as to make them easily discernable to
the touch and to the naked eye. There were other bones with obvious cut marks on them. By this time my heart was practically pounding out of my chest. The weight of what I was looking at hit me
hard. I turned to the woman and asked her questions like, "Do you see these marks?" "Do you know what they are?" "Do you understand the significance of this?" "Do you realize scientists have
been looking for this for over a hundred years?â€�
I remember her standing there, and her expression gave me the impression that my obvious excitement didn't seem to be spilling over onto her. After a while she told me I could stay and examine
the bones as long as I liked, but she had to get back to work. As she disappeared up the stairs, I knelt down again, alone with my treasure, and touched the cut marks on the femur. I wondered
how many wonderful and important discoveries had been made by someone all alone in a jungle or slaving away in a lab when suddenly something occurred that was more exciting than they could
have ever imagined, and there they were with no one else to share in the celebration. Now here I was in the same situation. But not for long.
Notifying the Professionals
I found a phone as fast as I could and called my friend Dr. Overstreet. I told him about what I had found and told him he'd better get down here right away. I'm sure he could sense the urgency and
excitement in my voice. He said he was tied up for the rest of the afternoon, but he could come down the following day. He asked if I had contacted Mr. Joyce at the Kenosha Public Museum. I said
I hadn't. To be truthful I was reluctant to trust someone I didn't know very well with what was obviously an important discovery. Dr. Overstreet, on the other hand, I had known and worked with for
many years. His integrity and trustworthiness were impeccable. My intentions were to tell him alone and trust his judgment on how to proceed. But, because of his integrity, he told me Mr. Joyce
was the â€œlocal guy,â€� meaning that he was the local professional experienced in archaeology, and it would only be right to include him in the meeting. I agreed and called Mr. Joyce at the
museum. After explaining what I had found to him, he agreed to meet with us the following day at the Historical Society.
The three of us met in the basement of the Historical Society. I excitedly showed them my discovery. I could see them both get excited, too, when I showed them the cut marks, but being
professionals, they controlled their excitement very well. Right away they started talking about carbon dating and sending the bones to a cut mark specialist. At one point Dr. Overstreet turned to
Mr. Joyce and said that he wanted it understood and agreed to from the outset that I would be intimately involved in whatever comes of the discovery from beginning to end, no matter what it might
turn into or however long it might take. For a long moment Dr. Overstreet looked at Mr. Joyce until he nodded his head and agreed. I was a little surprised by this, but you have to understand
that's the kind of person Dr. Overstreet is and was. He respects my work, despite the fact that I don't have a degree in archaeology. Later in the meeting Mr. Joyce said he had found the Phil
Sanders map, and that it showed the exact location of the original bone discovery on the Schaefer farm in Paris Township in Kenosha County. Fate had set some very large wheels in motion, and I
was right in the middle of it.
The Schaefer and Hebior Mammoths
We learned that the Schaefer farm had remained in the family and belonged to Mr. Frank Schaefer, who was more than willing to let us check it out. Later that spring of 1992, Mr. Joyce, his wife
Ruth Blazina-Joyce, and I located the Schaefer mammoth with the help of Phil Sanders' map. We were excited to find that the bones had cut marks on them. In the spring of 1994, Dr. Dave
Overstreet, Frank Schaefer, and I discovered the Hebior Mammoth on the adjacent Hebior farm with the willing invitation of Mr. John Hebior and his family. One Sunday afternoon Frank Schaefer
and I located the bone pile of the Hebior mammoth.
The exact spot where we dug was decided on by Dr. Overstreet during a phone conversation I had with him. The decision to look in that exact spot came after an intense effort made under
grueling conditions by a dedicated field crew consisting of a group of graduate students from Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, volunteer Mark "Jake" Bolton, Principal Investigator Dr.
Dave Overstreeet (also Principal Investigator of the 1992 Schaefer excavation), and Dr. Overstreet's two sons, Colin and Ryan Overstreet. I was Site Supervisor and Site Illustrator.
Dr. David Overstreet provided the photographs for this article. He affirms David Wasion's discovery and writes that, "... scientific confirmation of Dave's initial observations was accomplished by the
hard work of Dr. Eileen Johnson, the Museum at Texas Tech University. Dr. Johnson carried out a formal taxonomic analysis of the Hebior, Schaefer, Mud Lake, and Fenske fossils under the
auspices of a grant I received at Marquette University from the National Science Foundation." For more about David Wasion, see the Editorial and his impressive resume,both of which are
elsewhere in this issue of The Citizen Scientist. Forrest M. Mims III, Editor.
|David Wasion at work at the pre-Clovis Hebior Mammoth site.
|David Wasion and James A. Clark, Jr., Research Associate, Center for Archaeological
Research at Marquette University, at work at the pre-Clovis
Hebior Mammoth site. Photograph by Annelle Clark. David Wasion and James A. Clark, Jr.,
Research Associate, Center for Archaeological Research at Marquette University, at work at
Hebior Mammoth site. Photograph by Annelle Clark.
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|Kenosha Man Vs. Kennwick Man
Mammoth Bone Cut Marks Date Kenosha Man as the Oldest Man so far Discovered in North America