What does a 750 pound alligator eat? Well, pretty much anything he wants, but the objects found in this Mississippi alligator’s stomach defy the odds and date back thousands of years.
Shane Smith, owner of Redwood treatment in Yazoo City, said he was examining the contents of a 13-foot-5-inch alligator that weighed 750 pounds and discovered two unusual objects. One he couldn’t identify, but the other was clearly a broken stone arrowhead.
The discovery was so unexpected that he hardly broke the news.
“At first I thought ‘I’m not posting this on Facebook’ because nobody will believe it,” Smith said.
Then he had doubts.
“It’s too cool not to post on Facebook,” he said. “This has probably never happened before. We have to publish this.”
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Identity plates in the stomach of an alligator
The story began to unfold in April when a South Carolina wild game processor reported cutting an alligator’s stomach open and finding unusual objects. Smith read it and was skeptical.
“Curiosity struck me when I saw a post online about someone finding identity tags in an alligator’s stomachSmith said. “I am one of those who don’t believe in fake news.”
To satisfy this curiosity, Smith decided to examine the contents of the larger alligators he handled. The first was a 13ft, 2in, 787lb Gator Taken By Ty Powell Columbia.
“We found a bullet in it and it hadn’t been shot by a gun,” Smith said. “I don’t know how he got in there.
The second alligator he opened, which was harvested at Eagle Lake, contained many things the first had made, including bones, hair, feathers, and stones. Then something else caught his attention.
A find like no other
“Everyone was standing there like I was opening a Christmas present,” Smith said. “We kind of put everything in the trash.
“I looked and saw a rock with a different shade. It was the tip of the arrow.”
Smith said he was stunned.
“It was just disbelief,” Smith said. “There’s just no way he has an arrowhead. Your first thought is that she ate (a Native American) or (a Native American) shot him in the stomach.”
Smith knew it wasn’t, however.
“My best guess is that wherever he picked up these other rocks he got that Indian point,” Smith said. “We joked about it and said I’m probably the only person on Earth to have an arrowhead removed from an alligator’s belly.”
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The point dates back thousands of years
James Starnes, director of surface geology and surface mapping for the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality, examined a photograph of the point. He estimated that it was made around 5000-6000 BC.
“This is the latter part of Early Archaic and Early Middle Archaic (periods),” Starnes said. “The way the base is made is a real eye-opener for estimating the time period.”
Starnes also noted that the object is not an arrowhead. It’s a point used on an old weapon which throws a spear using a second piece of wood with a cup on one end that acts as a lever to increase speed.
“It’s an atlatl dart point,” Starnes said. “People think all heads are arrowheads, but these (arrowheads) would be the little dots.”
As bizarre as the discovery was, it was about to get even stranger. Smith found a heavy teardrop-shaped object about 1 ½ inch in length. He and the hunter licensed to harvest the alligator, John Hamilton of Raleigh, thought it was something more modern – a sinker used for fishing.
“It’s as heavy as lead,” Hamilton said. “Looks like there are two holes in it, but they don’t go through it.
“There is a small hole and a bigger hole on the top. I guess it goes in and out.”
Hamilton searched for the object online, but failed to identify it.
“I didn’t find anything like it in the fishing stuff,” Hamilton said.
What is a lead, and why would an alligator eat it?
Starnes said it was known as the Tumble and dates back to the late Archaic Period, around 1700 BC.
Weight is taken into account because it is made of hematite, an iron oxide exchanged between the first groups and glows when polished. Starnes said what the falls are for is unknown.
“The falls, we really have no idea what they were for,” Starnes said. “These things had some meaning, but we have no idea. We can only guess.”
So how did these ancient artifacts get into the alligator’s belly? Ricky Flynt, Alligator Program Coordinator for the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, explained that very hard objects, usually stones, help reptiles digest.
“Alligators, like other animals such as birds and other reptiles, are known to ingest gravel and rocks to help with digestion,” Flynt said. “We know alligators and crocodiles do this.”
However, alligators differ from birds like chickens and ducks. These animals have gizzards and the gravel and sand are stored there to help crush the seeds and grains they eat. Alligators do not have a gizzard and the stones go into the stomach.
“Sticks, wood; things they can’t digest go into their stomachs,” Flynt said. “I found a piece of cypress in the belly of an alligator that was 15 inches long.”