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Elephants (and extinct relatives) as earth-movers and ecosystem engineers
Department of Anthropology, University of Nevada-Reno, Reno, NV 89557-0096, United States
Accepted 4 April 2011
Available online 23 June 2011
Modern African elephants affect habitats and ecosystems in signiﬁcant ways. They push over trees to feed on
upper branches and often peel large sections of bark to eat. These destructive habits sometimes transform
woody vegetation into grasslands. Systems of elephant trails may be used and re-used for centuries, and
create incised features that extend for many kilometers on migration routes. Elephants, digging in search of
water or mineral sediments, may remove several cubic meters of sediments in each excavation. Wallowing
elephants may remove up to a cubic meter of pond sediments each time they visit water sources.
Accumulations of elephant dung on frequented land surfaces may be over 2 kg per square meter. Elephant
trampling, digging, and dust-bathing may reverse stratigraphy at archeological localities. This paper
summarizes these types of effects on biotic, geomorphic, and paleontological features in modern-day
landscapes, and also describes several fossil sites that indicate extinct proboscideans had very similar effects,
such as major sediment disturbances.
© 2011 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
Large and small animals disturb land surfaces with digging,
burrowing, wallowing, trampling, and other behaviors whose effects
may permanently inﬂuence landscape evolution (Butler, 1995). As
expected, large mammals often have very large effects. This paper
aims to describe and discuss the large and small effects of the largest
terrestrial mammal, the African elephant. First I examine some of the
ways in which free-roaming elephants shape and re-shape landscapes
in contemporary African settings. A systematic quantiﬁcation of the
effects has not yet been reported, but general impacts of the actions
are here summarized. I describe digging, trampling, rock polishing,
and other effects such as habits of destructive feeding on vegetation.
Next I describe fossil sites –some containing proboscidean bones –
and attempt to explain how ancient sediments preserve traces of
proboscidean behavior very much like the behavior of living
2. Animal landscape-sculptors and ecosystem-engineers
The ways in which terrestrial animals affect surface sediments are
many and varied. Portions of the landscape may be re-shaped and
effectively sculpted by animal behavior. Likewise, some animal
behaviors may change vegetational communities by eliminating,
damaging, or suppressing speciﬁc plant taxa.
Beavers (Castor canadensis) provide an example of both processes.
They frequently stack and weave sections of tree branches and sticks
and stabilize them with mud to build dams that create lakes and
ponds, often diverting streamﬂow and altering habitats (see Naiman
et al., 1988 and Butler, 1995: 148–183). An extreme example is in
Wood Buffalo National Park, Canada, where beavers have built an 850-
m-long dam in remote, ﬂat wetlands within coniferous forest, a
construction feat that probably stretched over many generations
(http://www.pc.gc.ca/eng/pn-np/nt/woodbuffalo/ne.aspx; accessed 3
An example of smaller-scale animal landscape-sculpting is seen
with modern wolves (Canis lupus), which dig out or enlarge natural
rockshelters and earth hollows, especially in sand, to make dens for
newborn pups (Mech, 1970: 118–123). Sometimes these sites are re-
used but also are often abandoned, and other animals then sometimes
adopt them for dens. Wolves are not the only diggers. Warthogs
(Phacocoerus aethiopicus) in Africa modify existing ground openings
such as erosion gullies or antbear burrows, or excavate when needed,
creating shelter from predators at night or protection from heavy rain
(Cumming, 1975). Fossorial rodents tunnel through sediments, some
of which may contain archeological materials, either in open-air or
cave/rockshelter settings, often destroying stratiﬁcation or creating
features such as stone lines that deceptively appear to be original
strata (Bateman et al., 2003). Sometimes inﬁlled remnants of animal
burrows (called krotovinas) are preserved in ancient sediments (see,
for example, Tappen et al., 2002).
Some animal effects on land surfaces are larger scale. Well-used
animal migration routes following hilltops may become sunken
trailways, such as the bison trails now adopted for highways and
rail routes in the eastern United States. A still noticeable bison trail
system is the Buffalo Trace in Indiana, also called the Vincennes Trace
and Clarksville Trace, where US Route 150 follows it. Another long-
Geomorphology 157-158 (2012) 99–107
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distance bison trail has become the Natchez Trace Parkway from
Mississippi to Tennessee. Similar animal-made routes are still being
created and used today in southern Africa, where some game trails
have been used by nomadic elephants for centuries (G. Haynes, 1991,
2001, 2005). Fig. 1 shows trails used by elephants (and other species)
in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe. These trails range from 30 to
50 cm wide and 5–15 cm in depth, depending on substrate and
intensity of use. Elephant-use creates nearly ﬂat-bottomed trails with
fairly regular lateral margins, whereas hoofed animals may create
trails with less even bottoms and margins. Parallel trails may be
created and used in some places, especially when elephants move in
greater numbers. The trails created and maintained by elephants are
compacted and scuffed surﬁcial sediments without covering vegeta-
tion, which has been worn off. Oftentimes fresh and trampled dung
may form a carpeting on sections of the trails (as in Fig. 1 on the left),
especially near water sources where elephant trafﬁc is concentrated.
Laws et al. (1975) recognized that large African animals, such as
elephants, interact with the environment in powerful ways. Currently
researchers are carefully measuring how these interactions have
“major organizing effects upon ecosystem processes as well as
structure”(McNaughton et al., 1988: 799). Below I describe African
elephant effects on land surfaces and ecosystems that I have observed
or found in the literature.
2.1. Digging by elephants
Elephants are especially able to alter land surfaces on large and
small scales. Elephants in Africa dig wells to reach subsurface water
(Douglas-Hamilton and Douglas-Hamilton, 1975: 165; G. Haynes,
1988, 1991) and excavate into mineral deposits to ingest the
sediments (Buss, 1990: 164–170) or to spread dust over their skins
to protect against biting insects and harsh sunlight, leaving behind
large holes and depressions in the ground (Fig. 2; also see ﬁgures in
Elephants visiting water holes in southern Africa may walk away
from the pond bottoms with mud sticking to their legs and bodies, and
also may ingest some mud, thus deepening and enlarging the water
basins (Weir, 1969). Flint and Bond (1968) estimated that African
elephants in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) removed 0.3 to 1.0 m
every time they wallowed in mud. This process has been documented
for other animals as well in other parts of the world (Butler, 1995).
Elephants in Kenya have been recorded entering a cave system in Mt
Elgon to scrape and feed on minerals from the cave walls in total
darkness, thus reshaping the cave interior (Redmond, 1982). Buss
(1990) found large elephant-excavated holes and pits in roadbanks
and slopes within the Ngorongoro Crater. Analysis of the mineral
samples suggested that the elephants were digging in the sediments
speciﬁcally for manganese and cobalt, essential micronutrients, and
regularly walked considerable distances to reach these sediments.
2.2. Elephants can smooth and polish rock surfaces
In the Sengwa Wildlife Research Institute, Zimbabwe, elephants
polish rock faces when they press against stone surfaces to drink
water from at least one spring issuing from the base of a bedrock ridge
(Fig. 3). Elephants (and other animals) scratch themselves in African
game reserves by rubbing their bodies against rocks and tree stumps
(Fig. 4), wearing down the stone or wood surfaces and frequently
producing glossy polish.
2.3. Elephants affect vegetational communities
Elephants also affect landscapes in other ways that do not directly
involve sediments, such as stripping bark from live trees for
Fig. 1. Trails used frequently by elephants in Zimbabwe. On the left, a trail in loam showing compression up to 10 cm deep in the center; on the right, a shallower trail in loose
Kalahari sand where the deepening results as much from pushing-up of sand to each side as from compression. Photographed in Hwange National Park; right photograph taken in
late 1990s, left photograph taken 1983.
100 G. Haynes / Geomorphology 157-158 (2012) 99–107
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nourishment, or pushing trees over to reach upper branches, often
killing the trees. In Africa, elephants are sometimes considered
problems because they cause the loss of plant species. Any other
animals that may feed on those plants must either migrate or decrease
in numbers as they lose forage sources. Elephants preferentially feed
on certain plants in different seasons of the year, seeking moisture and
nutrients from the tissues. In the dry season, grass –which is a favorite
forage in the wet growing seasons –dries out and provides poor
forage, so elephants must browse more often, seeking more woody
vegetation, including leaves, twigs, and bark. Heavy feeding on woody
plants may irreversibly damage whole stands of trees and bushes.
According to Sikes (1971: 248), an adult male elephant in Africa may
eat up to 150 kg of vegetable matter every day, but also damages even
more than this daily while feeding (“it is a somewhat wasteful
feeder”) and moving through vegetation. Elephants are capable of
opening up previously dense vegetation while feeding and trampling.
Higher densities of elephants can completely remove large patches of
woody vegetation, and open up ground for different sorts of
vegetational communities, including patchy mosaics (Lindsay, 1990)
or grasslands. According to Petrides and Swank (1964: 841; cited in
Buss 1990:162), elephants may “maintain a relatively early succes-
sional stage of plant community development”by removing trees,
often enabling other animal species to live in regions where they
would not have been present otherwise. Once wooded habitats that
have been cleared by elephants may experience an increase in animals
that are mixed feeders and grazers. Such changes are major ecological
impacts. Bell (1985) found that woodland dominated by the common
genera Acacia,Commiphora, and Adansonia is particularly affected by
the impacts of elephants, becoming more open and losing consider-
able numbers of trees because of elephant feeding. Such changes in
biota also may affect geomorphological processes, such as fostering
accelerated erosion or slowing the formation of soil horizons.
2.4. Accumulations of elephant dung
Where elephants congregate, such as at preferred feeding patches
or around water sources, dung may be so thick as to carpet the ground
surface over large expanses (Fig. 5). An average size African elephant
may pass up to 100 boluses of 1–2 kg each, generally in 20–30
defecations, every 24 h (Sikes, 1971: 107). Passage time of undigested
food probably varies between about 20 to over 50 h, based on studies
of a captive Asian elephant (Benedict, 1936).
Trampled dung concentrated in aggregation sites, such as margins
of waterholes, would alter local sediment pH near surfaces and clearly
add substantial amounts of organic matter to the mineral sediments.
Measurements of the pH effects of different quantities and densities of
elephant dung are not available, but overall the dung probably does
not dramatically change landscape acidity or alkalinity except on very
localized scales. The process of such heavy deposition of dung is
usually seasonal. At the end of the season of deposition the organic
matter may be overgrown with fresh vegetation and eventually
incorporated into a litter zone until the next episode of dung
deposition and trampling, expectably in a dry season when the
ground cover is once again depleted and minimal. Elephants do not
digest more than about half of what they eat. Because of the 1–2 day
passage time in the gut the organic matter may be derived from forage
ingested some distance away from the defecation sites; thus,
undigested seeds or nuts may be distributed fairly widely and expand
the range when they successfully germinate.
Fig. 2. Elephant-dug pit in mineral sediments, Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe.
Photographed in late 1990s.
Fig. 3. Smoothed sandstone rock face where elephants (judging from the tracks in the
streambed) and possibly other large mammals have pressed or rubbed against it while
drinking from the spring. Photographed in Chirisa National Park, Zimbabwe, 1982.
Fig. 4. Smoothed and polished stump of Combretum imberbe (leadwood), rubbed by
elephants in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe. This is a very dense and strong
hardwood, and this degree of polish indicates frequent heavy rubbing by elephants,
suggesting what can also happen with rock surfaces. Photographed in the early 1990s.
101G. Haynes / Geomorphology 157-158 (2012) 99–107
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Some undigested materials in dung may be preserved in the
sediments as future macrofossils or as objects that could be mistaken
for human-made materials such as cordage manufactured from plant
ﬁbers (Fig. 6).
2.5. Elephants trample and disturb surface materials
A mature male African elephant may weigh over 5000 kg; a
mature female may weigh 3000 kg (Sikes, 1971: Fig. 39, p. 179). The
“foot-loading”of a walking modern elephant has been published (see
Guthrie, 1990:263, referring to other sources) as 510–660 g/cm
which is the force exerted per unit area of ground surface. This value is
actually lower than the foot-loading of horse or bison, or even the
much smaller saiga antelope, because the weight is spread over a
much broader foot area than in the hoofed taxa. Table 1 shows foot-
loading values for a variety of different northern taxa. So much force is
exerted that each elephant footstep has the power to compact surﬁcial
sediments to a large degree. Studies of the effects of foot-loading from
ungulate and human trampling are numerous in range management
literature (for example, Ferrero, 1991; Mulholland and Fullen, 1991;
Saravi et al., 2005), and show that large-mammal trampling reduces
soil macropore space (impeding water inﬁltration and increasing
surface runoff) and also lowers root biomass and whole plant biomass
for many species, seriously decreasing the fertility index of land
surfaces where trampling is intense. Some plant species may not
survive elephant foot trafﬁc; others may be depressed in growth and
reproduction. Hence, vegetational communities may be greatly
inﬂuenced, especially near water, along habitual trails, or in preferred
Surﬁcial sediments and plants are not the only features that are
impacted by elephant trampling. Elephant trampling also has a clear
effect on future deposits of fossil bones. Surﬁcial sediment grains may
be abraded against bone surfaces when trodden under the great mass
and large foot size of elephants, creating marks that may be mistaken
for traces of butchering by hominins (Fig. 7). Bones may be marked by
the abrasion, and they may be broken and scattered by kicking or
dragging of elephant feet. These actions surely also affected animal
bones in the distant past, subtracting some bone elements and
modifying others within fossil assemblages.
Elephants often pick up objects to investigate before putting them
down far out of the original place. Elephants are sometimes inclined to
re-arrange the bones of dead elephants encountered at death sites
(see Douglas-Hamilton and Douglas-Hamilton, 1975 for photographs
of live elephants holding and moving bones). The weight of a
trampling proboscidean can fracture animal bones, and on gravel
surfaces the trampling can break stone pebbles and cobbles (Lopinot
and Ray, 2007), creating false ‘artifacts’such as ﬂakes and ﬂake-
scarred ‘cores’that have the characteristics of human-made materials.
Some elephant effects, such as digging, trampling, and dust-
bathing, may accelerate erosion of the land-surface or disturb
archeological deposits and invert depositional sequences, confusing
Fig. 5. Dung boluses, trampled dung, and elephant bones on a land surface at a water point, Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe. Photographed around 1983.
Fig. 6. Long woody plant ﬁbers deposited in elephant dung, Hwange National Park,
Zimbabwe. Photographed in mid-1980s.
102 G. Haynes / Geomorphology 157-158 (2012) 99–107
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future stratigraphic interpretations by mixing materials of very
Although many of the inﬂuences that elephants have on
landscapes are localized and relatively small-scale, often they do
have lasting effects on landform shapes and characteristics, recogniz-
able thousands of years after creation. Table 2 summarizes some of the
measurable or estimated effects that African elephants may have on
3. Fossil evidence of proboscidean ecosystem engineering and
3.1. Proboscidean effects on extinction
Owen-Smith (1987) proposed that landscape engineering by
prehistoric proboscideans may have fostered the great Pleistocene
diversity seen in non-analog animal communities of the time.
Proboscideans were ‘keystone’species that partly shaped ecosystems
(a concept taken for granted by many paleoecologists, such as
Robinson et al., 2003), mainly by inﬂuencing the survival or extent
of some vegetational communities, as modern elephants are known to
do. In the past, more sympatric taxa of proboscideans lived in the
world, such as the two or three species of Mammuthus, one species of
Mammut, and several other species of gomphotheres in the Americas.
The cumulative effects of these large mammals kept many habitats in
mosaic-state, with open glades and patches around wooded and
grassy patches, and thus fostered faunal and ﬂoral diversity. Human
foragers invaded the proboscidean ranges during the global dispersal
of Homo sapiens after 100 ka, and they may have hunted mammoths
and mastodons to extinction, setting off an ecological cascade of
vegetational changes in North America that led to further extinctions
of many other large herbivores.
The debate continues over the ultimate cause(s) of the end-
Pleistocene extinctions. Owen-Smith's hypothesis about mammoth/
mastodon engineering of local environments is testable, if for example
enough radiocarbon dates from the many taxa that died out actually
do indicate that proboscideans died ﬁrst. Abstracts and oral reports
from one as yet inadequately published dating project (Graham et al.,
1997, 2002; Graham, 1998), however, seem to indicate that pro-
boscideans died out last, after all of the other well-dated extinct taxa
had disappeared, in a two-step process which is the opposite of what
3.2. Digging by mammoths
Blackwater Locality Number 1 in New Mexico –the original Clovis
archeological site, after which Clovis stone spear points were named –
contains spring conduits and wells attributed to human digging,
including some of Holocene age (Green, 1962) and at least one that is
late Pleistocene in age (C. V. Haynes et al., 1999). Well-digging by
humans at the time of Clovis archeological culture is a signiﬁcant
event, since a Clovis-age drought (C.V. Haynes, 1991) has been
postulated for much of North America just prior to the end of the
Pleistocene, and may have ﬁgured in the process of megafaunal
extinctions. The well at the site is a fairly narrow shaft or “circular pit”
(C. V. Haynes et al., 1999:455) sunk through underlying sediments
and inﬁlled with sediments from above. It was discovered in 1964 and
re-exposed in 1993. It is interpreted as an unsuccessful hole dug by
Clovis people to reach ground water about 13,500 cal BP (C. V. Haynes
et al., 1999). Fragments of mammoth and bison bones were found
nearby in the archeological excavations. Bear, tapir, badger, and
beaver were ruled out as excavators of the regular cylindrical pit, and
no clear evidence clinches the case that humans dug the pit —such as
the presence of artifacts or preserved shovel/scoop marks. It may be
possible that a mammoth dug it using its trunk to grasp bundles of
sediments and throw them aside, as happens in elephant country in
Africa, for example. The 1.5 m depth is within the range seen in
African elephant excavations for water in Zimbabwe (G. Haynes,
3.3. Mammoth tracks
Elephant-foot-size depressions (Fig. 8) on a buried occupation
surface at the Murray Springs archeological site in Arizona, inter-
preted as mammoth tracks (C.V. Haynes, 1973; C.V. Haynes and
Huckell, 2007), were created around 13,000 cal BP. The paleosurface is
thought to be “a spring ﬁeld where water oozed from…slopes”into a
small stream (C.V. Haynes, 2007: 40). Mammoth bones were found
below and atop the surface, some associated with stone artifacts.
Besides making the tracks in saturated surﬁcial sediments, mam-
moths had also scraped the ground in places within a dry or sluggish
stream bed, possibly in search of water, as elephants do today in Africa
A sample of foot-loading values by northern mammalian taxa, (from Guthrie 1990:
262–263, citing other sources).
Taxon Foot-loading value (grams per cubic centimeter)
Bison bison bison 1000–1300
Equus caballus horse 625–830
Saiga tatarica saiga antelope 600–800
Loxodonta/Elephas elephant 510–660
Alces alces moose 420–560
Ovibos moschatus musk-ox 325–400
Rangifer tarandus caribou 80–140
Canis lupus wolf 89–114
Homo sapiens R. Dale Guthrie
Fig. 7. Trample marks on a wildebeest (Connochaetes taurinus) tibia, made by elephants.
Photographed in mid-1980s.
103G. Haynes / Geomorphology 157-158 (2012) 99–107
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(G. Haynes, 1991). The distinctive type of paleo-surface microrelief at
the site provides a unique window into conditions of the past,
implying drought that may have affected the entire region and
beyond (C.V. Haynes, 1991).
Another fossil site with possible traces made by mammoth feet is
Hot Springs, South Dakota. Nearly 60 mammoths and several
individuals of other vertebrate and invertebrate taxa were trapped
and died in a 20 m deep, steep, slick-sided karst sinkhole that had a
warm spring at the bottom (Agenbroad, 1994; Thompson and
Agenbroad, 2005) over the course of about 350–700 years, at 26,000
BP. The sinkhole ﬁlled with laminated layers of clay, silt, and sand
around articulated and disarticulated (and unpermineralized) animal
bones. In at least one locus, two sediment proﬁles contain distur-
bances of the horizontally bedded layers, interpreted as mammoth
tracks (Fig. 9).
3.4. “Beast solonetz”sites
Some Siberian sites rich in mammoth bones appear to have been
frequented by animals in search of mineral sediments. These sites also
may contain abundant evidence of the human presence in the form of
stone tools, used to kill or butcher mammoths at the localities.
Derevianko et al. (2000:53) hypothesized that one suchsite, Shestakovo
in western Siberia, was createdbetween 25,600 to 18,040 BP by humans
seeking mammoths that had been attracted to a “local geochemical
landscape, i.e., the solonetz soil”which contains relatively high levels of
potassium and magnesium. This sort of interpretation has acquired
some traction in the literature. It is becoming better known that there
are so-called ‘beast solonetz’localities in eastern Europe and parts of
northern Asia —mineral deposits visited by mammoths for generations,
where deathsfrequently occurred,and slumping of sediments (possibly
caused by mammoth excavations) sometimes buried bones and
preserved them for the long-term. Leshchinskiy (2001, 2006, 2009)
proposed that Upper Paleolithic humans in northern Eurasia balanced
the search for suitable toolstone against the search for large mammals.
In his view, the largest archeological sites occur where sources of
toolstone are located near mammoth migration routes in landscapes
rich in calcium, magnesium, and sodium. Soffer (1993:40) also
suggested that some central European (Moravian) mammoth-bone
archeological sites, which are often huge and ﬁlled with thousands of
bones, were located where they are because of the local mineral-rich
sediments that attracted mammoths. Abraczinskas (1994) tested this
possibility in North America with a spatial analysis of Michigan
mastodont-bone sites and saline water sources, but the mastodon
bone sites did not strongly correlate with the locations of the saline
Measurements or rough estimates of elephants' potential geomorphic effects.
Action Quantity or effect Reference
510–660 g per square centimeter Guthrie
Trail creation/use Depth of ‘incision’=5–15 cm or more, depending upon substrate; Width of trail =30–50 cm, depending upon substrate
(Note: trails may be created more by compression underfoot than by sediment removal/erosion)
Sediment removed from water holes
after wallowing, carried away on
the body of each individual
0.3–1.0 Flint and
Dung deposited around water hole
edges at drought refuges
Up to 2+ kg per square meter in dry season, depending upon intensity of use G. Haynes,
Excavation of unconsolidated
sediments (such as well-digging in
sand) by an individual elephant in
one session, using feet and trunk
1 G. Haynes,
1-season removal of consolidated
mineral sediment by multiple
feeding elephants seeking
1–3+ cubic meters, depending upon numbers and intensity of feeding G. Haynes,
Fig. 8. An excavated paleosurface at the Murray Springs archeological site in Arizona,
dated to about 13,000 cal BP (photograph provided by C. V. Haynes, Jr.). These are
interpreted as mammoth footprints around the muddy edge of a pond. A skeleton of an
adult female mammoth (M. columbi) is shown being excavated in the upper part of the
photograph. Photographed in 1966.
104 G. Haynes / Geomorphology 157-158 (2012) 99–107
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3.5. Mammoth rub sites
Possible Pleistocene rub sites have been found in North America,
such as at Sonoma Coast State Park in northern California (Parkman,
2002, 2009; Parkman et al., n.d.). These sites are speciﬁcally
interpreted as places where now-extinct (Rancholabrean) large
mammals scratched themselves against blueschist boulders and
seastacks (Fig. 10), smoothing and polishing some parts of the rock
surfaces (Fig. 11). The polished areas are often located much higher off
the ground than can be reached by modern terrestrial mammals, such
as cattle or horses. The smoothing affected high points on the rock
surfaces rather than entire surfaces, indicating it was a mechanical
process of contact abrasion rather than chemical process such as
weathering or dissolution. The sites are possibly situated on a
migration route that linked coastal prairies with the interior plains
of California. Flaked stone artifacts have been found in excavations at
the Sonoma Coast rub loci, but no direct dates are yet available on
either the cultural materials or the rubbed rock surfaces. Humans
quarrying toolstone from the sites may have removed much of the
once polished outer surfaces of rock (Parkman, 2009). Parkman
(2009) and Peterson (2003) name other possible rub sites in New
Mexico, Nevada, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.
3.6. Mammoth bone accumulations as sediment traps
Loci where elephants died en masse or serially over time from
noncultural causes are fairly uncommon, but enough have been
recorded (for example, see G. Haynes, 1991) to lead me to think that
noncultural sites containing multiple proboscidean skeletons were
also expectably created in the ancient past. Multiple skeletons
accumulate most often near water sources today in Africa, like the
elephant die-off sites in Zimbabwe (G. Haynes, 1991), and waterside
localities probably were also the settings for multiple mammoth/-
Conceivably, large numbers of proboscidean bones would act as
sediment traps and divert streamﬂow and drainage, reshaping land
surfaces and site topography. One possible example is the Colby Clovis
site in Wyoming, dating to about 13,000 cal BP. More than 450 bones
from seven Mammuthus columbi and a few other taxa were found
along with ﬂaked stone tools, including spear points probably used to
kill and/or butcher the mammoths. Human stacking of carcass parts or
skeletons along with some redeposition by water created two
concentrated piles of bones and some scattering of others (Frison
and Todd, 1986). Maps of bones (such as Fig. 2.8 in Frison and Todd,
1986, p. 44) and rose diagrams of the excavated bones (Frison and
Todd, 1986: 53) suggest that water ﬂowing in the steep sided and
narrow paleo-stream dispersed some elements from the bone piles
that people had made. Experiments done in a modern stream using
recent elephant bones indicate that moving water disperses and also
aggregates bones. Once bones are moved by water, according to Frison
and Todd (1986:64), the “potential for subsequent movement is
decreased.”Bones may then become dams. When that happens,
scouring and downcutting by water around the clusters or larger
elements would cause bank slumping that might bury bones
episodically (Frison and Todd, 1986: 80).
Proboscidean effects on ancient landscapes and archeological
deposits perhaps are underestimated in some settings. A single
trampling elephant can move large amounts of surﬁcial materials just
by the sweep of its feet. Elephant excavations for minerals or water
directly shape parts of landscapes and also inﬂuence erosional effects.
Elephant-abilities to sculpt land surfaces, alter vegetational commu-
nities, and produce mimics of artifacts make proboscideans an
Fig. 9. Sediment disturbances thought to be created by mammoth feet at the Hot
Springs Mammoth Site, South Dakota. Photographed in late 1990s.
Fig. 10. “Sea stacks”at the Mammoth Rub locus in Sonoma Coast State Park, California. Photographed in 2003.
105G. Haynes / Geomorphology 157-158 (2012) 99–107
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unusually important animal to consider in paleogeomorphological
I thank all the generous and hospitable people who encouraged or
supported my work in Africa, especially current and former members
of staff of Zimbabwe's Parks and Wildlife Management Authority.
Their names are too numerous to list anymore. I thank the scientists
and colleagues upon whom I have depended for insights and data,
especially the late Paul Martin, an inspiration in every way, and C.
Vance Haynes, also a true guiding light (and who provided
photographs of the Murray Springs site), along with Larry Agenbroad,
Jeff Saunders, Breck Parkman, George Frison, the late Nikolai
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