By Juan Manuel Ramirez G.
Zumpango, Mexico, Oct 21 (EFE).- A life-size replica of a mammoth welcomes visitors to the Santa Lucia Quinametzin Paleontological Museum at the international airport now under construction in this suburb of Mexico City.
It was during excavations for the new terminal that workers came upon a 95-percent complete skeleton of a Columbian mammoth, a creature that went extinct at the end of the Pleistocene epoch, about 11,500 years ago.
“The Columbian mammoth (Mammuthus columbi) is the largest species that inhabited North America. It measured 4 meters (13 ft) in height and from 4 to 6 meters (20 ft) in length, and weighed between 8 and 10 tons,” Edgar Leal Hernandez, an archaeologist with Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH), told Efe Thursday.
Further investigation at the dig uncovered human remains and tools that indicate members of pre-Columbian cultures came into contact with the skeleton of the mammoth.
“They (the pre-Columbian people) found the buried mammoth bones and due to the similarity with the human skeleton, they believed them to be bones of (human) giants,” suggested Jose de Jesus Cantoral, a military officer who heads the relic and fossil preservation team at Felipe Angeles International Airport.
In the mythology of the indigenous people, Quinametzin were giants who built the colossal main pyramid of the Aztec imperial capital of Teotihuacan, the ruins of which lie beneath Mexico City.
“The first paleontological discovery occurred in November 2019,” Cantoral told Efe. “We now have 513 and we continue registering others, though not of the same magnitude or frequency.”
The museum is meant to convey “the enormous paleontological and archaeological wealth that we found on these lands,” he said.
“We in Mexico have Latin America’s largest paleontological collection from the late Pleistocene, some 48,000 bone fragments,” the officer said.
Besides the display rooms, the museum will offer visitors the opportunity to watch specialists carry out the work of restoration.
While the airport is not expected to be completed before next March, the museum may be ready to open its doors by year’s end, Cantoral said.
The excavation at the airport involves 57 INAH archaeologists and more than 500 military personnel.
Seventy percent of the fossils have been found on the north side of the Santa Lucia airbase, which is being expanded and renovated to serve as a civilian air terminal.
“Apparently it was the shore of Lake Xaltocan, which rose and fell along with precipitation and when it fell it formed a swamp, and any animal seeking water had to pass over this zone of clay-like soil and became stuck,” Leal Hernandez said.
Over time, the soil formed “a capsule in which the skeletons remained in a very good state of preservation, creating a site unique in the world,” he said. EFE jmrg/dr