PAT NEAL: A short history of history

SOMETIMES, I MISS the good old days. The really old good old days — 13,900 years ago.

That’s the date that’s been fixed upon the Manis Mastodon site near Sequim.

In 1977, Emanuel Manis found some elephant tusks while digging a pond with his backhoe.

As remarkable as this sounds, it was not an isolated discovery.

Others digging in peat bogs in the area have found a variety of large bones and simply buried them, not wanting to be bothered.

Not “Manny” and his wife, Claire Manis.

Claire said they called every university and archaeologist they could find to report this amazing discovery, but no one seemed interested.

That was until she reached Dr. Richard Daugherty, professor of anthropology at Washington State University.

Daugherty, Delbert Gilbow and Dr. Carl Gustafson began excavating the site by pumping water to wash the bones from the sediments.

Within the first two hours, they made an amazing discovery: a mastodon rib bone with a piece of bone sticking out of it.

The archaeologists postulated the protruding bone was the tip of a needle-sharp spear that caused a penetration fracture.

In addition, they found bones of bison and caribou antler fragments.

Some of the bones had cuts and scratches that indicated butchering by humans.

Others had been cracked open, displaying spiral fractures that indicated an attempt to get the marrow.

The mastodon skull had been cracked open to possibly access the brain, which was an important food item and used to tan hides before there were any dry cleaning services.

The organic matter around the Stone Age barbecue indicated this happened about 14,000 years ago. All of which made the Manis Mastodon site the oldest evidence of human activity in the Pacific Northwest.

That’s when the trouble started.

Others said the alleged spear point in the rib bone was just a piece of horn or tusk the mastodon got while in a fight with an ornery elk or another mastodon, or any one of a number of other abundant Pleistocene megafauna.

This ignores the fact the spear entered the animal’s back from above at about a 60-degree angle.

Mastodons stood 8 or 9 feet tall at the shoulder, so it was either laying down when it was speared or hit from a distance, with the spear falling in the arc of its trajectory.

Others challenged the date of the discovery, saying it wasn’t as old as other mastodon sites.

This is a typical, prevailing view of some archaeologists and historians who maintain if they didn’t find it, it’s not worth finding.

The controversy went on for decades until the mastodon rib in question was put through an industrial-grade CT scanner at the University of Texas that showed the spear point was made of bone.

DNA testing proved it was from another mastodon.

Additional tests proved it was 13,900 years old.

All of which served to vindicate the site’s significance in our pre-history.

The 1970s was the golden age of Olympic Peninsula archaeology.

Daugherty was excavating six longhouses that had been buried in a mudslide at Ozette.

It was called the “Pompeii of the Northwest” because the mud preserved the village, allowing archaeologists to recover over 55,000 artifacts that are now housed in the Makah Museum in Neah Bay.

It was about this time I began my own historic research, with less spectacular results.

I discovered a three-holer outhouse at a homestead near Sequim, the largest hotcake griddle in the Olympics and a genetic laboratory at Lake Crescent — which I will be discussing at an historic storytelling event at noon Saturday at Native to Twilight, 10 N. Forks Ave, in Forks.


Pat Neal is a Hoh River fishing and rafting guide and “wilderness gossip columnist” whose column appears here every Wednesday.

He can be reached at 360-683-9867 or by email via

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