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Natural History & Fine Arts Museum

Mammoths at the Museum

Schaefer: First mammoth found east of the Mississippi butchered by people
Hebior: Largest and most complete mammoth excavated in North America

A centerpiece of the Kenosha Public Museum is the Schaefer and Hebior mammoth exhibit. Archaeologist Dan Joyce, the Museum’s director, and archaeologist David Wasion rediscovered the Schaefer mammoth in the Town of Paris, Kenosha County in 1992.

Schaefer Mammoth Discovery

The Schaefer mammoth discovery began in 1964, when a farmer by the name of Frank Schaefer had hired a man to cut a drainage tile ditch through his field. While excavating the ditch, the contractor hit something that literally knocked him off his feet. Remarkably he had banged into the end of a wooly mammoth’s femur. A little more digging revealed tusk fragments.

Schaefer Dig Site Exhibit

A portion of the Schaefer Dig Site Exhibit

At the time, Phil Sander, a local amateur archaeologist, sketched a detailed map of the site, and Mr. Schaefer donated the bones to the Kenosha Public Museum.

Dan Joyce used Sander’s map almost 30 years later, in 1991, to relocate the site on the Schaefer farm. After about 18 months of painstaking work, he and his team of volunteers discovered the nearly complete remains of the oldest known mammoth believed to have been butchered by humans with tools east of the Mississippi River. The Schaefer mammoth was 80 percent complete.

“The mammoth had died near the edge of a lake formed by glacier melt. Because it died thousands of years before the advent of bows and arrows, it was likely killed by Paleo-Indians wielding thrusting spears,” Joyce explained.

During the excavation of the Schaefer site, Frank Schaefer’s neighbor, John Hebior, approached Mr. Schaefer about a large bone he had uncovered on his farm many years before the Schaefer mammoth was discovered.

 

Hebior Mammoth Discovery

One year after the Schaefer mammoth was excavated, Wasion went to work again, this time with archaeologist Dr. David Overstreet, on excavating the Hebior mammoth. What they discovered was that like the Schaefer mammoth, the Hebior mammoth was disarticulated and possessed the cut marks and stone tools which led to the conclusion that it, too, was butchered by humans.

The Hebior mammoth is the most complete mammoth (90 percent) ever excavated. It is also the largest wooly mammoth ever excavated; and it and the Schaefer mammoth site are two of the three oldest archaeological sites in the Western Hemisphere.

Originally thought to be 10-12,000 years old, carbon dating later established the bones are 12,500 radiocarbon years old (14,500 years ago).

Eileen Johnson, an archaeologist from Texas Tech University, said, “there appears to be marks that were made by tools, certainly by people.” This meant people were in Wisconsin 1,000 years before what was previously thought to be the oldest discovered human community in the Western Hemisphere–Monte Verde in southern Chile.

In 2008, Dan Joyce presented at an invited workshop at the Center for the Study of the First Americans at Texas A&M University. When asked if there are any updates to these extraordinary mammoth discoveries, Joyce said:

“After all of the presentations on early sites were given, it was deemed by the moderators that the Schaefer and Hebior sites are the best evidence for early dates of people in North America.” And after two seasons, the Kenosha Public Museum and the Center for the Study of the First Americans are still searching for the the original location of another mammoth, the Mud Lake mammoth, in the Town of Bristol, Kenosha County. Said Joyce, “Two seasons, and no luck yet, but they’ll be back for more.”