Human remains that may be 15 thousand years old have been found on Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forest lands.
The discovery potentially will change scientists' understanding of human activity in North America. The news could also shake up the Granite State.
After finding so-called New Portsmouth Man, some have begun to ask whether this ancient ancestor’s profile should replace the Old Man of the Mountain.
New Hampshire Public Radio’s Dan Gorenstein has the story.
The story starts with Dan Tucker and Dave Andersen, two hunters from Sutton.
TAPE: we was out on the last day of deer season. And we seen something with that tornado come through...it was a hole in the ground you could say...it was a big tree down as I recall....it was wicked big. And I thought we should climb down there cause I seen something down at the bottom.
When they got down there, the two friends realized they had uncovered a human body.
TAPE: 1:47 well, Davey wanted to call the cops right away. And that meant walking back out to the truck and all that, and we had tramped in there, and I thought, he ain’t going anywhere. So let’s just go on with our hunting, circle back and take care of this later.
TAPE: we was having a hell of a time. I don’t know if you’ve seen, that tornado came through there, there was just a lot of brush and we was climbing over and under, and I had just had about enough...it was just about lunch time, if I remember...and then we found this body, and I figured, maybe we should just stop right there and call the police. I figured we had come on a crime scene, know what I mean?
After the hunters called the local authorities, they took a closer look.
TAPE: he was all leathery. And it looked like he had been there for quite a while....looked like he had been dunked in tea for a few years...he was sort of brownish and he really didn’t have like normal clothes on. Fella wasn’t wearing much at all to tell you the truth...and the queerest thing was the way he was kind of looking back over his shoulder like there was something after him, frozen in time...I’ll never forget the look in his eye, I still kind of have nightmares...I just can’t get that picture out of my mind of the way he looked, he looked scared.
TAPE: pretty remote....it’s pretty back up here. Probably have been people up here...
Jack Savage is a spokesperson for the Forest Society.
...where are we right now, Jack?...don’t want to be too specific because there are often treasure hunters looking for these kinds of remains, but we are up near the boundary of Carroll and Strafford County. An area known as New Portsmouth.
We are standing in what used to be a grove of trees, many now torn down by the tornado that ripped through this part of the state last year.
It’s cold, rainy, and a little eerie.
Savage says the look on New Portsmouth Man’s face has left an impression on him too.
He says the acidic conditions in the bog have not only preserved skin, eyes and teeth, but the finest details- including eyelashes and whisker hair.
TAPE: when the public gets to see the face on this man, it’s amazing, that you can see his facial expression. That moment when he understood he would not survive this scrape he was in 10,000 years ago...and to be able to see that, and understand the human emotion, really a remarkable feeling.
Savage can’t help but imagine what caused New Portsmouth Man’s demise.
Perhaps some Pleistocene mammal chased him to his death.
Perhaps he was running from an approaching glacier.
Artist's conception of New Portsmouth Man running from whatever may have caused his demise. See more drawings of New Portsmouth Man (Steve Carlson/courtesy image)
TAPE: here was this guy caught by one foot, trying to escape. And he didn’t. and he fell into this boggy area. Until 10,000 years later when this tree fell over and exposed him.
Ultimately, scientists are unlikely to ever discern how New Portsmouth Man died.
But Dartmouth Anthropologist Kenneth Korey says that detail is relatively unimportant compared to the significance of the discovery.
TAPE: as far as we can tell, just a preliminary estimate, and this could very well be changed, we are thinking we have a specimen that could be in the neighborhood of perhaps 15,000 years. It’s unquestionably older than 10,000 years. It’s very old.
Korey says what’s notable about the find is that, at 15,000 years old, New Portsmouth Man would come from the Paleo-American period, the earliest phase of occupation here.
Most peculiar is that, at the time what is now New Hampshire was thought to be uninhabitable....some places covered in thick sheets of ice.
The thought a Granite State descendent could survive those conditions has prompted some to argue New Portsmouth Man should replace the Old Man of the Mountain.
Again, the Forest Society’s Jack Savage.
TAPE: I am not quite sure how we feel about that...clearly we lost the old, old man in the mountain and are in search of a new old man of the mountain...this would be the really old man of the mountain.
Many involved with the Old Man don’t want to touch this story.
Neither the Governor nor most members of the Old Man of the Mountain Legacy Fund would comment.
But there may be mounting pressure to turn to New Portsmouth Man into a state symbol.
Cultural Resources Commissioner Van McLeod- who is part of the Legacy Fund- seems open to the idea.
1:!4 nothing would replace the icon that was on the side of the mountain, but digging up a preserved body of over 10,000 years would certainly put an interesting twist on everything.
Hunters Dan Tucker and Dave Andersen can’t see it.
As two of a select few who actually know what New Portsmouth Man looks like; they think the move would tarnish the state’s reputation.
5:34...You take a look at this feller’s face. It’s kind of like a big brown raisin, more like a big prune. He’s all wrinkled up. I don’t think that’s a real good idea. I think we should have left him right down in the hole....that’s what we should have done is just got a shovel....they are calling him ‘New Portsmouth Man’ as if, he’s symbolizing something. With all this fuss, we should have just left well enough alone.
Dartmouth Anthropologist Kenneth Korey says he’s glad the hunters didn’t leave well enough alone.
He predicts the finding will bring scientists to see New Hampshire in a new light.
Still he cautions people against drawing too many conclusions.
After all, he says the human remains found in England in 1912 known as Piltdown Man was a hoax.
"now I must ask you...is there any chance that this is a hoax?"
"I don’t think at this point a hoax. I wouldn’t myself know how to make a hoax of this sort. Simply because the means we have now of bio-chemical analysis for dates are not the sorts of techniques were not available to our hoaxing ancestors."
Korey says he expects testing to wrap up a year from now, the first of April.