The elephant-like -- and long extinct -- family of animals known as gomphotheres once populated much of North America. And now, thanks to new research by archaeologists at the University of Arizona, we know that America's earliest inhabitants hunted Cuvieronius, a genus of gomphothere.
Scientists recently found gomphothere fossils while digging at an ancient Clovis site in Mexico. The excavation site is called El Fin del Mundo, which is Spanish for "the end of the world," and at 13,390 years old it is the earliest evidence of the Clovis civilization yet.
The Clovis culture is considered to be the earliest distinct civilization in the Americas; the Clovis culture, as categorized by archaeologists and anthropologists, is defined by its spear blades -- precisely shaped chalcedony, chert, quartzite and rhyolite weaponry used to kill giant Ice Age mammals.
Not only is the new site one of the oldest examples of the Clovis culture, it's also the most recent evidence of the gomphothere, which scientists assumed had died out before humans arrived.
"The Clovis stereotypically went out and hunted mammoth, and now there's another elephant on the menu," said Vance Holliday, researcher at Arizona and co-author the new Clovis study -- published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The date and location of the newest -- and now oldest -- Clovis site has also cast doubt on our understanding of the culture's origin.
"Finding the oldest Clovis sites that far south really does suggest to me that Clovis probably originated somewhere in southern North America, and that has a lot of implications for the peopling of the Americas," said Thomas Jennings, an archaeologist at the University of West Georgia in Carrollton who did not participate on the dig.
"I think sites like El Fin del Mundo really force us to rethink the process of the colonization of the Americas," he added.
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