A discovery of epic proportions: Dozens of mammoth remains found in Mexico’s Santa Lucía airport

Over 70 mammoth specimens have been found in Santa Lucía

A discovery of epic proportions: Dozens of mammoth remains found in Mexico’s Santa Lucía airport
Lake Xaltocan attracted many animal species to the area - Photo: File photo/EL UNIVERSAL
English 09/06/2020 18:55 Manuel Espino Mexico City Actualizada 13:21
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The Santa Lucía Airbase, the place where the government is building the Felipe Ángeles International Airport, became one of the sites with more paleontological findings that belonged to the late Pleistocene in Latin America.

To date, there are 129 sites where over 70 mammoths, camels, American horses, bison, antelopes, and bird have been found and whose ages go from 25,000 to 10,000 years old; they have been rescued by the National Defense Ministry (SEDENA) with help from Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH).

The project involves 31 INAH archeologists and 218 assistants – hired by the Army – that perform recovery and restoration tasks on the materials that will be exhibited in a museum that will be built on site.

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Most of the bones were detected in October 2019 in what will be the Fuel Terminal of the new airbase and where bones from several species are still being collected.

“Due to the concentration, we already [know] that this is the place [the Santa Lucía Airbase] with more paleontological findings from the Pleistocene in Latin America. That is, due to the concentration,” as asserted by the head of the Archeological and Paleontological Rescue Board on the new airport, military engineer José de Jesús Cantoral Herrera.

During a tour on the area, the first captain explained that at the Front 10 of the Fuel Terminal works, they found scattered mammoth remains, which means some specimens could have been laying on the ground and others could have been out of anatomical position.

“There is a disperse context in this site since different factors could have contributed to the material being organized in a certain way, such as predators dismembering the animals or the participation of scavengers.

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He said that “most specimens have been found in the north [area]. There’s also a dispersion of findings inside the military airbase, but it has a lower concentration than other places.”

Cantoral Herrera adds that, to date, there are 11 active excavations and in one of them, the one that corresponds to the perimeter path of the terminal, high concentrations of bones were recovered.


Along with the head of the archeological rescue tasks of the work, INAH’s expert Rubén Manzanilla López, the engineer said there is currently “an archeological team of supervisors accompanying the machinery at all times. When the presence of bone material is detected, the area is restricted, the excavation process begins, the team enters and performs the cleaning and consolidation of the materials while they make a detailed register.”

He adds that there are still 61 areas waiting to be explored, mainly where there are no construction works but that were excavations made to take advantage of rock materials.

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Rubén Manzanilla López explained that lake Xaltocan used to be in the Santa Lucía Airbase and that it attracted many animals in different eras.

“By the end of the Ice Age, the glacial period, this area registered the withdrawal of ice bodies some 25,000 years ago. This allowed the vegetation to grow again,” he stressed.


The availability of fresh water, he said, “attracted many animals back them, such as the mammoth, both herbivores, and their carnivore predators, that is why there are so many specimens.

“The most common version suggests that, due to the composition of the bottom of the lake, and since these animals [the mammoths] had a very high weight of several tonnes, there were trapped, and hence this made them the victims of scavengers,” he added.

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Likewise, he asserts that “there is strong evidence of mammoth hunters using the area. It will take us a while to know if there are prints of tools in some bones that allow us to confirm the presence of hunters and scavengers.”

In that vein, Manzanilla López reveals that scientist Luis Córdoba Barradas found a series of traps in Tultepec, which could confirm hunters were organized to catch mammoths and use their meat.

“We have a study project for the paleontological remains in the collection, and we will soon have expert graphologists that will work with us, the best paleontologists in the country, and experts like Joaquín Arroyo, and Eduardo Corona.

“They will help us a lot with the identification of the remains and to know the health conditions, ages, and sex of the findings we have recovered,” he said.

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