(Trends Wide) — Discovering prehistoric artifacts is already surprising. But finding them deep in the belly of a huge alligator … that’s something else.
Shane Smith, owner of Red Antler Processing in Yazoo City, Mississippi, was digging into the stomach of a 15-foot alligator when he found a pair of objects that he couldn’t identify. The animal was brought in to process its meat and skin.
The objects turned out to be Native American artifacts dating back thousands of years, which he said he later discovered thanks to an expert.
“My first instinct was, ‘It can’t be. There’s no way this is possible,'” Smith told Trends Wide. “You naturally think, ‘Oh my God, this alligator either ate an Indian or he ate an animal that the Indian shot.’ But, you know, obviously the alligator isn’t thousands of years old.”
Smith thought the objects – a projectile tip that was part of a hunting tool and something that looked like a fishing lure – were interesting enough, so he posted it on his store’s Facebook page.
Geologist James Starnes looked at the photos of the artifacts and was able to tell a lot about their history, based on his investigation of Native American artifacts found in the Mississippi Delta. Starnes is the director of geology and surface mapping for the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality.
Prehistoric artifacts found on the alligator
He described the objects as a plumb line, which is a teardrop-shaped metal object of unknown use, and an “atlatl dart tip,” which is a spear or dart used for hunting, Starnes said.
“The native inhabitants of North America, especially Mississippi, probably date back more than 12,000 years,” he said. “This technology was what they would have brought with them.”
The use of the plumb bob is “hotly contested” among experts, Starnes said. It looks like a fishing weight or a net weight, which is what some claim it was used for.
But it is made of hematite, an “exotic” material that could have come from as far away as the Great Lakes region, Starnes said. Using such an “ornate” object for something utilitarian like fishing seems unusual, he added.
The plumb line appears to be from the late archaic cultural period, ranging from 1,000 to 2,000 BC, Starnes noted.
The brown rock, which was part of the tip of the atlatl dart, would have served as the basis for the hunting tool, Starnes said. He described it as a base with an arrowhead attached to the end.
“These things were done before bows and arrows came to North America,” he explained.
Now the big question
How did these artifacts get into the stomach of a giant alligator?
Alligators are known to eat all kinds of things. This large alligator had fish bones and scales, teeth, small mammal bones, hundreds of persimmon seeds and stones, Smith said. The stones ranged in size from a quarter to a silver dollar, he added.
This alligator was captured Sept. 2 by John Hamilton, who found it in Eagle Lake, north of Vicksburg, Mississippi, Smith said.
Among the alligator’s captor, Smith and others, the group estimated this alligator to be between 80 and 100 years old, Smith said.
Although the contents of his stomach were noteworthy, there was another strange thing Smith recently found in an alligator.
Another large alligator, also found in 2021, had a “45-caliber bullet in its stomach,” Smith said. “The strange thing about this is that the bullet had not been fired from a gun. It was a clean bullet, so you wonder how it got there.”
“They will eat practically anything”
Finding artifacts from this antiquity is common in this region of Mississippi, Starnes says.
“Since this area was so populated for such a long period, the artifacts appear in very unusual places,” Starnes said. “They can erode from the surface, or they can be exposed due to things like rain events, construction projects.”
The use of stone was popular in archaic times, he noted.
“You can imagine one of these sites that has this amount of stone material is eroding off the shore, easy enough for an alligator to pick up, especially looking for it, you know, just something to ingest,” he said. “Alligators will eat pretty much anything.”