Paleontologists from the University of Michigan rushed to a nearby soy field after a farmer discovered a nearly complete wooly mammoth skeleton.
Fisher has been involved in many other significant mammoth and mastodon excavations in North America, particularly in Michigan. In 1985, he discovered the teeth of a mastodon while Saline High School was remodeling their football field. There, he found various dental fragments, including an enormous molar as the football team along with volunteer workers raked new soil down over the field. Fisher estimated that this mastodon weighted nearly 6 tons and stood 9 feet tall.
Fisher came across another mastodon fossil in the area when a crane operator working with Saline Super Soil unearthed a pile of gigantic bones on a property to the west side of town in January of 1992. The workers were digging to build a pond when they began noticing bone fragments. Fisher was called to the site where he described the find as a 19-year-old male mastodon that lived roughly 11,000 years ago. It had stood nine feet to the shoulder, and left behind a pelvis, a lower mandible with a tusk attached, two vertebrae, and various pieces of its front and rear legs. The bones from both of these discoveries were donated to the University of Michigan’s libraries.
While Bristle still has yet to decide the fate of the bones discovered on his property, Fisher and his team are currently in the process of cleaning and examining them.
Wooly mammoths were a distinct species of mammoth that lived during the Pleistocene era. It is one of the most modern of mammoth species, and its closest living relative is the Asian elephant. Wooly mammoth remains have been found all across Siberia and North America, and there is much anthropological evidence to suggest that humans interacted with the beasts, likely hunting them for their fur, tusks and meat.
Wooly mammoth’s weren’t much bigger than present-day African elephants, standing roughly 10 feet tall and weighing nearly 6 tons. The wooly mammoth was particularly suited for survival during the ice age, with a thick coat of fur consisting of rough outer hairs and a shorter undercoat layer meant for insulation.
Paleontologists believe that wooly mammoths met their fate through a combination of hunting pressure from humans, who used their bones and tusks for making art, tools, and shelter, as well as their meat for food, and the environmental change and habitat loss brought on by the end of the ice age. There is evidence that isolated populations likely lived on Wrangel Island in the East Siberian Ocean as recently as 4,000 years ago.
Scientists have proposed using the genetic material found in well-preserved fossils to clone a wooly mammoth, but they still have yet to find a way to effectively do this. For now, the wooly mammoth discovered near the University of Michigan will only serve as a memory of what life was like at the end of the ice age thousands of years ago.