Treasure hunters search New York’s East River after claims mammoth bones were dumped there in the 1940s

Treasure hunters search New York’s East River after claims mammoth bones were dumped there in the 1940s

Treasure hunters search New York’s East River after claims mammoth bones were dumped there in the 1940s

Ask people what you might find buried in the mud at the bottom of New York’s East River and they’d probably answer “mob boss” before thinking of mammoth bones.

But several groups of treasure hunters have taken to the waterway in recent weeks after hearing a guest on comedian Joe Rogan’s podcast claim that a wagonload of potentially valuable prehistoric mammoth bones had been dumped in the river in the 1940s.

Despite the lack of evidence to support the story, treasure seekers using boats, diving devices and technology such as remote-controlled cameras set out to search, in the hope that the murky waters hide mammoth tusks. woolly.

“I think the odds are as good as the lottery. And people are buying these tickets every day,” said Don Gann, 35, of North Arlington, New Jersey, a commercial diver who is on the water. since the beginning of last week with his brother and two workers.

It all started when John Reeves, a fossil-loving gold digger from Alaska, came on “The Joe Rogan Experience” for an episode that aired Dec. 30 to talk about his land, where he personally discovered many bones. secular and defenses. In the first half of the 20th century, under previous ownership, prospecting for gold unearthed a treasure trove of prehistoric mammal remains.

East River Mammoth Bone
“Effie,” the mummified remains of a baby woolly mammoth found in Alaska in 1948, is on display at the American Museum of Natural History, Friday, Jan. 13, 2023, in New York.

Marie Altaffer/AP


Some of this material was brought to New York decades ago to be turned over to the American Museum of Natural History. Reeves cited a draft of a report by three men, including one who worked at the museum, that included reference to certain fossils and bones deemed unsuitable for the museum that were dumped in the river.

“I’m going to start a bone rush,” Reeves told Rogan, before reading the draft and giving a location: East River Drive, which is now known as FDR Drive, around 65th Street.

“We’ll see if anyone has a sense of adventure,” he said, later adding, “Let me tell you something about mammoth bones, mammoth tusks – they’re extremely valuable .”

After the episode aired, the American Museum of Natural History threw water as cold as the East River on the tale.

“We have no record of the disposal of these fossils in the East River, and we could find no record of this report in museum records or other scientific sources,” he said. said in a statement.

When reached by The Associated Press by phone, Reeves declined to speak and instead told a reporter to read the pages of the draft he posted on social media before hanging up. He did not respond to further calls and emails.

Social media pages identify three men as perpetrators: Richard Osborne, an anthropologist; Robert Evander, who previously worked in the Department of Paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History; and Robert Sattler, an archaeologist from a consortium of Alaska Native tribes.

Reached by The Associated Press, Sattler said the story of the thrown bones came from Osborne, who died in 2005.

The document cited by Reeves was real, he said, and written in the mid-1990s. But it was not something intended for an academic journal. It was a starting point for something – possibly a book – based on Osborne’s knowledge of a time in Alaska when mammoth remains were found in abundance. Osborne’s father worked at a company involved in digging.

Sattler said Osborne spent time around the operation as a young man and likely heard the story of excess bones thrown into the river. Sattler said he had no details beyond Osborne’s recollection.

“He would have been informed by someone who would have told him that they had dumped excess material in the East River,” he said.

Mammoth remains discovered in Alaska ended up in the American Museum of Natural History, some of which are still on display today.

The section of Manhattan shoreline where Reeves claimed the bones were dumped underwent major changes in the 1930s and 1940s as East River Drive, later renamed for President Franklin D. Roosevelt, was built on fill and pilings. The highway was fully opened to drivers in 1942, raising questions about how someone would have dumped a huge treasure trove of bones without disrupting traffic.

Gann said he saw about two dozen other groups of fossil hunters during his time searching for mammoth remains on the East River.

Visibility in the East River is extremely poor, he said. On a good day, you might see a foot in front of you. The current at the bottom is strong.

But the keen diver, who appeared in Discovery’s ‘Sewer Divers’, has a knack for seeking unusual finds – although mammoth bones are admittedly on a different scale than finding a Paul Revere spoon at a sale. real estate.

“I’ve been hunting weird artifacts all my life, so this one kind of fits into my repertoire,” Gann said.

He and his team found nothing, which he admits was disappointing, but it prompted him to dig into the story himself. He looked to a location south of Brooklyn, saying it would have been a more likely site for unloading cargo than the East River off Manhattan.

“If I can’t find anything, then I can’t find anything. I tried honestly,” Gann said.

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