The elephant is mentioned only once in the Book of Mormon (Ether 9:19) and need not have survived in the Americas past about 2,400 B.C. While the jury is still out, there are a number of North American Indian traditions which recount legends of giant stiff-legged beasts which would never lie down, had a big head and large leaf-like ears, round footprints, forward-bending knees, and had a fifth appendage coming out of its head. Scientists agree that mammoths and mastodons once inhabited the Americas, and an article in Scientific Monthly entitled “Men and Elephants in America” suggests that these proboscidean animals (elephants, mammoths, or mastodons) may have survived in the Americas until 1000 B.C. —well within the timeframe demanded by the Book of Mormon.i According to Dr. Sorenson, Mastodon remains have been dated by radiocarbon to around 5000 BC in Florida, around the Great Lakes to 4000 BC, in the Mississippi Valley to near 3300 BC, perhaps to near 100 BC near St. Petersburg, Florida (“low terminal [C-14] dates for the mastodon indicate . . . lingering survival in isolated areas”), and at sites in Alaska and Utah dating around 5000 BC.ii As with the discovery of post-Pleistocene horse bones, mastodon bones which can be dated after the Pleistocene period (about 10,000 years ago) demonstrate that small pockets of these animals survived the mass extinction and may have survived to Jaredite times.
i Ludwell H. Johnson, III, “Men and Elephants in America,” Scientific Monthly (October, 1952), 4.
ii John L. Sorenson, “An Open Letter to Dr. Michael Coe,” at http://www.fairlds.org/authors/sorenson-john/an-open-letter-to-dr-michael-coe (accessed 14 September 2012).