It all started when well-known Bluff artist Joe Pachak spotted what he thought might be a petroglyph of a mammoth on a Sand Island petroglyph years ago. This idea was not so far fetched considering a Clovis Site was discovered in the 1980’s just north of the San Juan river, a few miles west of Bluff.
And this wasn’t the first time Pachak’s eagle eye spotted something new and different. While hiking Comb Ridge in 2004, Pachak discovered a mostly intact animal skeleton embedded in the Navajo sandstone rock. Turns out that was a new dinosaur species which was subsequently named Seitaad Ruessi.
Pachak introduced Professor Ekkehart Malotki of Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff to the panel, and pointed out that in his eyes the petroglyph depicted a mammoth. In 2011, after careful examination, Malotki published a paper in Rock Art Research which concluded that the most likely dating of the panels is indeed between 13,000 and 11,000 years BP.
To honor Pachak’s rock art discovery, the 2012 Bluff Arts Festival featured a workshop on building a mastadon from natural materials. The workshop was led by Pachak and another local artist, J.R. Lancaster. The mammoth took shape over several weeks and the resulting lifesize figure was quite impressive. Click here to see a video of this mammoth undertaking.
On December 21st, 2012, the day of winter solstice, the shortest day and longest night of the year, the citizens of Bluff burned the mammoth. We know that winter solstice was an important day to the Ancestral Puebloans who lived in the Bluff area and elsewhere in the Four Corners.
It is said that surviving to the darkest day brings the promise of survival itself. In homage to their ancestors, their progeny and whichever gods, the townspeople of Bluff stood united as the world began again– reborn from the ashes of the mammoth.