My first processing project of the semester revolves around two additions to the Paul S. Martin (MS 442) papers. Martin earned a PhD in Zoology from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and spent most of his research time collecting plant, pollen, and fossil specimens. Eventually, he became the leading expert on ‘prehistoric overkill’. Overkill theory suggests that the sudden demise of large mammal populations across continents is due to the arrival of nomadic humans who, unfortunately, rapidly hunted these animals. Animals our ancestors probably hunted to extinction: ground sloths, camels, mammoths, and mastodons. As one can imagine, Martin’s work continues to fuel debates–maybe humans killed them maybe we didn’t–but has sparked my interest as a student organizing his papers and materials.
One of the large mammals Martin is quite interested in is the ground sloth. Ground sloths lived in North and South America, but have been extinct for 10,000+ years–which is unfortunate, because they look absolutely adorable!
The Shasta ground sloth, which Martin focused his research on, lived in the Rampart Cave region in the Grand Canyon, Arizona. These giant sloths would spend the season in Rampart Cave and, before leaving, would leave behind large piles of dung that Martin and other researchers were fascinated with. They collected it, photographed it, searched for it on their hands and knees…they did all of the hard work so that students of history can examine the “proof” of where these ground sloths were before they disappeared from the planet.
Martin has several research files dedicated to the Shasta ground sloth, Rampart Cave, and many of his lectures, slides, research files, field notes, etc., can offer great insight into these sloths. I knew nothing about these sloths until I began opening folders and, admittedly, I ended up reading a great deal about them and their dung.
And, Martin even kept a small sample of sloth dung so that future generations can gaze upon something quite cool! I am always fascinated by what you find in the archives. Not only have I continued to learn about the process of processing, arranging, and protecting archival materials…I now know a *lot* about Martin’s work and I can posthumously thank him for teaching me about the creatures that came before.