Known as the "Riddle of the Colorado", this petroglyph was first discovered in 1924 by John Bristol, a Moab newspaperman. It measures 42 inches from snout to rump, and is 14 inches high at the shoulders. The upturned trunk is shorter than that of a modern day elephant.
Weathering of the sandstone in which the drawing is cut proves that it is very old. And scientists are generally in agreement that early man carved images of what he actually saw, but the mastodon is said to have been extinct for 30,000 years - 15,000 years before the supposed advent of man in this region. This gives rise to speculation as to whether man was here 30,000 years ago, or whether the mastodon survived until 15,000 years ago.
In an article written in the Moab Times-Independence, Melvin Westwood says that mastodons first arrived in North America about 12 million years ago, and they were still here when the first humans came here from Asia between 14,000 and 40,000 years ago. Mastodon bones and lance points were first found together about 50 years ago at Clovis, New Mexico. Dating of the site indicated it to be 12,000 years old.
Two more recent finds confirm that man and mastodon were contemporary. In 1978 at Sequim, Washington, Professor Carl Gustafson found a stone tool used for butchering, along with mastodon bones bearing marks of the tool. The bones are 12,000 to 14,000 years old.
In 1991 Richard MacNeish found, in a cave near Orogrande, New Mexico, human tools together with bones of several extinct animals; this find indicates that humans were here 39,000 years ago. There is little doubt that man and mastodon were contemporary in both North and South America.
Westwood said he recently learned from archaeologist Don Keller of the Museum of Northern Arizona that a Clovis man site was discovered in the Lime Ridge area of the San Juan River. "This places Clovis man less than 100 miles from the mastodon petroglyph at Moab. In my view, the Moab glyph is the best, if not only, pictograph of a mastodon. Experts have found this glyph accurate enough to assert that it is a mastodon and not a woolly mammoth," he continued.
Furthermore, according to Barnes and Pendleton, in their book Canyon Country Prehistoric Indians: Their Cultures, Ruins, Artifacts and Rock Art, there are two such "mammoths" in the Moab vicinity. One is a short distance down river from Moab Valley in the Colorado River Gorge (pictured). The other is in Indian Creek Canyon within sight of US 163 to the Needles district of Canyonlands National Park. There are interesting arguments on both sides of this historic-or-prehistoric controversy that centers on these two petroglyphs.
On the prehistoric side neither petroglyph appears to be recent. Both have desert varnish built up within the chipped out parts of the glyphs. Further it is widely accepted by anthropologists and paleontologists that early American Indians hunted such large animals as giant bison, mammoths and giant sloths, and may even have brought about their extinction.
On the historic side the two mammoth petroglyphs do not appear to be much older, if any, than the many other glyphs nearby, glyphs that are clearly associated with the most recent stages of prehistoric creatures that did not even exist 2000 years ago. Paleontologists estimate that mammoths became extinct on this continent about 10,000 years ago. Further the oldest rock are so far discovered that is age-dated by inference as 8700 years old is simply a fist-sized rock with scratches on it. To date, no rock are known to be older than about 1000 years old resembles the sophistication of design and techniques that was used in making these mammoths.
Or perhaps the ancient artist was simply trying to draw a picture of a bear with a fish in it mouth...