Paleontologists from the University of Michigan rushed to a nearby soy field after a farmer discovered a nearly complete wooly mammoth skeleton.
The University of Michigan’s backyard has a rich history of the prehistoric world itself. In 1969, a set of mastodon bones was uncovered by the same community where the farmer who made the most recent find grew up. James Bristle has lived in the community since the 50s, and recalls seeing the excavation down the road when he was just a boy.
Fisher says that it’s unusual to find a wooly mammoth fossil in this region, as mastodons are much more common. Bristle’s crops could only be put on hold for a day, so Fisher and his team of paleontologists worked tirelessly to get the bones out of the ground. Taking extra care to document the extraction, the team was able to unearth the entire collection of bones in time.
The fact that the mammoth fossil is so complete makes it a truly epic find. The mammoth is only missing its back limbs and feet, as well as a few other minor skeletal components. Bristle did a good deed by making sure qualified paleontologists extracted the bones, as many fossils are damaged or destroyed when excavated by amateurs.
The bones, however, still belong to bristle. It is his decision as to where they will wind up. Typically, the University would not devote resources to such an intense excavation without some sort of assurance that it would be worth their while. It was their hope that the University would receive the bones as a donation for research, but as of Friday Bristle still had yet to make a decision.
Because of the attention to detail, professor Fisher thinks he will be able to tell a lot about the way the mammoth lived and died in Bristle’s soy field thousands of years ago. Already, he thinks he has found evidence in the remains that the wooly mammoth once interacted with humans.
Because of the way the bones were oriented, Fisher believes that early humans butchered the mammoth. He thinks the carcass was placed underwater in a pond, so that the people could store the meat for later. While this remains a theory, Fisher says that he’s seen the practice many other times before.
The farm was very likely a pond at one time, left behind by massive glaciers that covered North America during the ice age as they retreated to the North. These glacial lakes were likely frigid, the perfect place to store a freshly killed mammoth or mastodon for future nutrition.
Fisher also discovered three boulders near the bones that could have been used to attach the mammoth carcass to the bottom of the lake. He also discovered a tiny stone flake next to one of the mammoth’s tusks, which could have been used as a blade for cutting the meat off the animal. To confirm his theory, Fisher will need to find evidence of cutting marks somewhere on the bones.
Fisher hopes that the bones will be made available for study not only to Michigan researches but also to paleontologists and evolutionary biologists all over the world.