Digging for Clues: Possible Mammoth Hunters of Comstock

Digging for Clues: Possible Mammoth Hunters of Comstock
Bucket auger coring device used in archaeological dig near Comstock

COMSTOCK—Researchers have reason to believe that mammoths and mammoth hunters may have lived in the Custer County area thousands of years ago.

An archaeological dig is underway this week south of Comstock. Local resident Bernie Kowalski and research director Steven Holen, PhD, have returned to Central Nebraska in search of geological evidence. After an initial dig in the early 1990s, the two men have reason to believe there are older components in the area that may indicate the presence of people who hunted mammoths (before the animals became extinct more than 13,000 years ago.)

“We’re looking for geological deposits of more than 13,000 years old where we might find evidence of mammoth hunters. So that’s what we’re doing back here. We don’t know if we’re going to find them or not,” Holen said.

Thanks to radiocarbon dating from previous digs in the area, research in an alluvial fan has provided soil samples and evidence of early human inhabitants. The earliest evidence they have come across includes pieces of pottery and arrow heads from 600-800 years ago.

“Before, we radiocarbon dated soils down to about almost 10,000 years. And we’ve found evidence of humans here down to about 9,200 years. But we’re really looking for evidence of people going back as far as 13,000 years. So that’s why we’re doing this deep coring to see if we can find older archaeological components that we can then come back and dig some test bits into,” Holen said.

Holen is the research director for the non-profit archaeological research organization the Center for American Paleolithic Research (CAPR) and said the Custer County site is an amazing place for archeology due to the thick deposits and layers of sediment that have been influenced by the Middle Loup River and its human inhabitants over the years.

“The fan is made up literally layer by layer of sediment. And that created surfaces people could occupy,” May said.

Holen, Kowalski, and Professor of Geography David May, Ph.D., from the University of Northern Iowa, are drilling down deeper than they have before using a bucket auger coring device to collect soil samples. Samples will be sent to out-of-state labs to be radiocarbon dated.

“The layers are very interesting of the soil, again dating about 7,000 at the top and roughly 10,000—although we’re hoping as Steve said, older at the bottom. It’s just like a layer cake and people occupied this fan repeatedly over and over and over so there are lots of cultural horizons in it which is fun,” May said.

Kowalski, a native of Comstock, previously worked with the Bureau of Reclamation and has worked with Holen for many years.He and the team are dedicated to reconstructing the history of the area.

“It means a lot to me really, puts us [Comstock] on the map,” Kowalski said.

Kowalski thanks Paula Johnson for donating time and money to the project and Grocery Kart for donating food during this week’s dig. The research team says they appreciate leads from the public and stories of those who may have come across artifacts on their land. CAPR is a non-profit organization and due to the expenses associated with radiocarbon dating, donations are accepted from those interested in learning more about the history of Central Nebraska.