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Smithsonian bone casts now in Vero

(Week of December 23, 2010)

Two Smithsonian Institution casts of the famous carved Ice Age fossil bone from Vero Beach arrived in town just in time for Christmas.

They were delivered on Dec. 18 to the home of James Kennedy, the local amateur fossil hunter who found the original artifact two years ago.

The carving is the only Ice Age carving of an animal living more than 12,000 years ago ever found in the Western hemisphere and examined by specialists. Kennedy has never revealed the exact location it was found in Vero Beach.

The casts are part of a group of 11 being prepared from a mold created by the Smithsonian Institution in Washington. Kennedy is entering into an agreement with the Smithsonian that will allow them to lend casts of his artifact to other institutions around the world.

Kennedy himself plans to sell the two casts he just received. “There are some fossil collectors who are really interested in these things.

“These two casts I just got are the only ones for sale that are genuine products of the Smithsonian Institution and signed by them. I will eventually have the mold too, but if you want a cast from it made at Smithsonian, these are the only ones being sold.”

A third cast has been sent to the Florida State Museum of Natural History in Gainesville where it has been put on display. A cast of the bone had been sought in recent months by Kerry McMahon, head of exhibits at the Gainesville museum. The cast is now part of an exhibit of Florida Mammoth and Mastodons.

“I wanted them to have one up there,” says Kennedy. “My bone is from Florida and people should get a chance to see what it looks like.”

Smithsonian scientists examined the bone and carving last May when Kennedy and local auctioneer and collector Ron Rennick took it to the laboratory of Dennis Stanford Ph.D., an expert in early North American archaeology.

Stanford’s examination of the carving found no reason to dispute the authenticity of the discovery.

Stanford is currently the Curator of North and South American Paleolithic, Asian Paleolithic and Western United States archaeological collections, Director of the Smithsonian’s Paleoindian/Paleoecology Program, and Head of their Division of Archaeology.

He was assisted in his examination of the bone and carving by geologist Thomas Jorstad, an expert in technologies for photographing and analyzing sediments. His specialized techniques include use of X-ray photography, laser particle-size analysis, Scanning Electron Microscopy, and Energy Dispersive Spectroscopy imaging with high resolution scanning microscopes.

Both men have a legal agreement with Kennedy allowing the casts to be made and for the mold to come to him at a later date.

“This bone is one of the most exciting things we’ve seen around my lab in the last 20 years,” Stanford said.

Stanford thinks the bone may be older than 13,000 years old, and may be as old as 20,000.