Ask people what you might find buried in the muck at the bottom of New York City's East River and they'd likely say "mob boss" before thinking of mammoth bones. But several groups of treasure hunters have taken to the waterway in recent weeks after hearing a guest on comedian Joe Rogan's podcast claim a boxcar's worth of potentially valuable prehistoric mammoth bones was dumped in the river in the 1940s, per the AP. Despite a lack of evidence to back up the story, treasure seekers using boats, diving apparatuses, and technology like remote-operated cameras have gone searching, in hopes the murky waters are hiding woolly mammoth tusks.
"I think the chances are just as good as the lottery. And people buy those tickets every day," said Don Gann, 35, of North Arlington, New Jersey, a commercial diver who's been out on the water since early last week with his brother and two workers. It all started when John Reeves, an Alaskan gold miner with a passion for fossils, came onto The Joe Rogan Experience for an episode that aired Dec. 30 to talk about his land, where he has personally uncovered numerous age-old bones and tusks. In the first half of the 20th century, under previous ownership, digging for gold unearthed a trove of prehistoric mammal remains.
Some of that material was brought to New York City decades ago to be handed over to the American Museum of Natural History. Reeves cited a draft of a report put together by three men—Richard Osborne, an anthropologist; Robert Evander, who formerly worked in the American Museum of Natural History's paleontology department; and Robert Sattler, an archaeologist with a consortium of Alaska Native tribes—that included a reference to some fossils and bones deemed unsuitable for the museum being dumped into the river. "I'm going to start a bone rush," Reeves told Rogan. Reached by the AP, Sattler said the story came from Osborne, who probably heard about it secondhand. He died in 2005.
The section of the Manhattan shoreline where Reeves claimed the bones were dumped underwent major changes in the 1930s and 1940s, as the East River Drive, later renamed for President Franklin D. Roosevelt, was constructed on fill and pilings. The highway opened fully to drivers in 1942, raising questions about how someone would have dumped a huge trove of bones without disrupting traffic. After finding nothing in that location, Gann switched his sights to a location off of the southern part of Brooklyn, saying it would have been a more likely site for cargo to be dumped than the East River off Manhattan. "If I find nothing, then I find nothing," he said. "I gave it an honest shot." (Read more fossils stories.)