Mammoth Site–Indoor Paleontological Site

We have always wanted to go to a dig but wanted to see the real thing.  While looking through the tourist brochures…yes we do read the local handouts to see what attractions are in the area…we discovered a day trip to Hot Springs, SD.  It is an amazing story of the discovery and the willingness of one individual to forgo personal wealth to preserve our history.  In 1974, a developer, while excavating a small hill for a housing development, discovered bones and tusks unearthed by the grader blade.  He immediately stopped construction and contacted the University to come to the site to investigate the discovery.  Needless to say he never completed the housing project but sold the property, at cost, to a local non-profit citizen group that was created to preserve the site.  Finally, in 1980, the site was added to the National Natural Landmark list.

The site contains the largest concentration of prehistoric Columbian and woolly mammoth bones discovered in the world.  How did this happen?  It started with a sink hole that filled with water with luscious vegetation surrounding the area.  Animals were attracted to the area for an easy meal and a cool dip in the water.  What they didn’t know was that once they went in they could not climb back out due to the steep angle of the slippery sides.  Their fate was sealed.  Alternating layers of unfortunate animals and sediment filled the hole for thousands of years until it was full and mounted over concealing the area for 26,000 years.

This is an active dig site where bones and tusks from 61 different animals have been discovered to date.  It is likely that there are  more is to be discovered but at this point they need to discover what is underneath the existing bones that would need to be removed.  A ground penetrating machine was brought in to determine what secrets lay below but unfortunately the bones were in hot water for so long that the bones and surrounding earth are the same density, meaning ground penetrating radar can not distinguished bones/fossils from the surrounding soil.  Next step will be to bring in sonar to see if it will do a better job of exploration.  Only about 20% of the known site has been uncovered to a depth of about 20 feet.  They have drilled a core sample that proved there are bones at least an additional 40 feet under the current dig site.  No one has any idea how deep the sink hole was or for how many thousands of years it was “collecting” unwary animals.

An interesting fact is that all the pelvic bones discovered to date have been identified as male!  There have been many theory’s abound on this fact however the most logical is that young males are kicked out of the herds at an early age.  The males being bigger and always hungy (those of us with boys know this to be a fact) were foolishly attracted to the easy source of food.  Although I like the theory that the females may have nudged them over the side!   LOL


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4 Responses to Mammoth Site–Indoor Paleontological Site

  1. Very cool!!! I guess they died happy w/ a full tummy… ??? Would be awesome to go see this in person…

  2. Amazing – I had never heard of that site.

  3. Another site you have added to our bucket list!

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