That’s a question Colorado author Craig Childs ponders in the film “Waking The Mammoth,” a 2015 film directed by Larry Ruiz. The Sunflower Theatre in Cortez on Friday screened the film, which was followed by a panel discussion featuring Childs and archaeologists Mark Varien, Winston Hurst, Jonathan Till and Ray Kenny.
The film features experts discussing a petroglyph near Bluff, Utah, that some think depicts a mammoth. If it is a picture of the massive mammal, it could reveal more detail about who occupied the Four Corners region as far back as 15,000 years ago, at the end of the Paleolithic era.
“I don’t know if it’s a panel of mammoths or not, but it’s a keyhole to look through,” Childs says in the film.
Little is known about who occupied the area that long ago, and when they came here. Since there’s so little information, scholars have to feel their way along until they find tangible evidence, Childs said.
There’s a lack of Paleolithic-era art in North America, Childs said. Archaeologist Scott Thybony, also featured in the film, said he hasn’t seen mammoth rock art anywhere else on the continent.
The film also explores the topic of a changing world, including climate change. Even though the world is totally different from the Paleolithic era, there are still some connections, cast members said.
Introducing the film, Ruiz said it’s only been a split-second geologically since humans were hunter-gatherers.
“It’s still embedded in our lives,” he said.
Till said present-day humans are just hunter-gatherers “stuffed in suits.” Childs said underneath it all, we’re no different from them.
That connection materializes at the end of the film, as cast members recreate a Paleolithic tradition: the slaying of a mammoth. People in Bluff, including many of those featured in the film, built a wooden mammoth statue and burned it in effigy in December 2012. Community members worked for months to build the mammoth, which then was ceremonially killed” with an atlatl spear throw to the heart.
Childs said humans now live on top, literally, of human stories that go far back in history.
“There’s a connection now, and we’re realizing it and reaching as far back as we can,” Childs said.