Learning From The Past Is More Than In The Bones
by Kathryn Mortensen
Oskaloosa, Iowa – Our planet has a wealth of knowledge buried beneath her surface. For a lucky few, these treasures are found in their own backyard, and one fortunate Iowa landowner had the honor of uncovering something so special. In the archaeological community a find like a mammoth skeleton is within itself a colossal discovery. Mammoths were large elephantine like creatures who roamed the prehistoric globe. Taller than Mastodons, the Columbian Mammoth originated in the Americas and are different from woolly mammoths because they are not covered in thick hair like the woolly but rather a fine layer of hair. Columbian mammoths are typically found in warmer climates. Fossils of these behemoths have been found all over the western hemisphere. It is likely that the mammoth evolved in Africa nearly 4 million years ago then migrated from Africa to Europe about 3 million years ago, then out of Europe to North America at 1.5 million years ago. When the mammoth lived, the world was in time of extremes, when the weather changed its mind more often than it stayed the same. The Columbian mammoths we find in Iowa lived during the late Pleistocene epoch. At this particular site almost 30 bones have been uncovered, including a femur, a tibia, a fibula and the atlas vertebrae. The Columbian Mammoth’s leg can reach 13 feet tall at the shoulder, the tallest of all the mammoths. These impressive animals also had tusks jutting from their skulls. The tusks are known to reach up to 13 feet in length, and the largest reaching to 16 feet. Mammoths were vegetarians, which suited them well in their grassland environment. You would not catch them chasing after prey, at nearly 10 tons it takes quite a bit of energy to get that weight moving. An animal that massive would need to eat up to 800 pounds of food daily to sustain its mass and vitality.
The site in Iowa was found merely by accident. Almost 2 years ago while gathering berries with his sons a lucky land owner saw something sticking out of the dirt. With sticks and their bare hands they began digging the strange looking object out of the side of the creek bed. It took them nearly an hour and a half to finally get it out of the dirt, when they did they discovered it was something exceptional. They had extracted a mammoth femur from the earth. The head of the femur was what they originally saw poking out of the soil, blackened from exposure. A mammoth femur is a most impressive specimen, it is one of the longest bones in the mammoth’s body. This land owner did everything in his power to keep the bone from drying out and cracking but nature sometimes gets the better of us. The femur did crack from becoming dry but not so much as to ruin the bone. Soon to follow were more leg bones, and other bones are being continually being revealed. Finding this many bones at one site is a feat that should be recognized all on its own. Nature, scavengers and the weather can scatter bones, especially the smaller ones, over long distances. But, the simple fact that this site has such a variety of bones, large like the femur and small like a toe bone, is outstanding. It can give the researcher a more holistic view of the life of a Columbian mammoth. This mammoth has been dated to around 12,000 years ago. This time period can be acknowledged through various dating methods. One way is to date the plants and pollen that are on the same stratum level as the mammoth. This gives the researchers more accurate dates of when our big friend would have lived. These immense quadrupeds not only lived in their environment but helped to create their surroundings, much like what humans do today.
The mammoth was a magnificent creature that would have put many of our common animals to shame. It once roamed this land as king, unhindered by today’s contemporary problems. Although the mammoth’s time has ended, its remains will be our window to the past. The Earth has so many secrets and wonders hidden beneath her surface. We may never know what the planet Earth has concealed from us, but not knowing is half the fun.