Home Front Page Michigan farmers find mammoth fossils while digging ditch

Michigan farmers find mammoth fossils while digging ditch

Farmers in Michigan quite literally stumbled across a mammoth discovery. While doing some relatively routine farm work, a pair of farmers found the remains of a wooly mammoth.

woolly mammoth
"Siegsdorfer Mammut" by Lou.gruber - Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons -

A pair of Michigan farmers made a ‘mammoth’ discovery, quite literally. Trent Satterthwaite and James Bristle were working on a drainage ditch at Bristle’s farm in Lima Township. After digging down about eight feet, the farmers came across what they thought was some sort of wooden substance. Turns out that they had stumbled across something far more imp

As they uncovered more of the “wooden” substance, they started to realize that it might be some sort of fossil skeleton. The two farmers then decided to contact the University of Michigan to get some expert advice. The two farmers were put in touch with Dan Fisher, the director of the Museum of Paleontology at the university. Fisher specializes in mammoths and other ice age animals, and their relations with humans.

Immediately, Dr. Fisher realized that the two farmers could have stumbled across something very important.

Still, digging out the mammoth was no easy task. Due to the very tight schedule for farmers, Bristle could only give Professor Fisher and his crew a single day to dig. Needless to say, a very frantic day ensued with paleontologists and digging experts working as quickly as possible to unearth what would turn out to be a very well-reserved woolly mammoth skeleton.

Professor Fisher described a hard day of work bereft of breaks. Still, the results were well worth it.

Fifteen members from the University of Michigan arrived at the farm, and using loaned equipment, the researchers set to work. The frantic day was well worth it, with the research team uncovering about 20 percent of a woollymammoth’s skeleton.

Most of the skull and tusks were uncovered, resulting in a very flashy showpiece. Along with the head and tusks, several ribs and part of the mammoth’s spinal cord was also uncovered.

Only a small number of woollymammoths have been discovered in Michigan thus far. The remains of approximately 30 mammoths have been found, but only about five have been so complete. For both the farmers and the researchers at the University of Michigan this amounted a major discovery, to say the least.

Besides fossilized skeletons, researchers have also found frozen woolly mammoths. Since the mammoths lived in such cold habitats, their bodies were sometimes preserved. 

As woolly mammoths and other “ice age” animals died out thousands of years ago, rather than tens of millions (like dinosaurs), farmers and other people engaged in routine activities occasionally stumble across their remains. Ice age fossils are often buried under much less dirt.

The who, what, and where when it comes to woollymammoths

woollymammoths might be the most well-known prehistoric animals outside of the dinosaurs. These massive, furry elephants once roamed huge swaths of the Earth at a time when the global climate was much colder than it is now.

Woolly mammoths are now famous for their massive tusks, which could measure up to 15 feet in length. These mammoths could weigh up to 7 tonnes, roughly the same size as a modern, non-woollyelephant. Imperial mammoths, which also existed thousands of years ago, are believed to have weighed as much as 15 tonnes.

Woolly mammoths inhabited the vast tundra steppe that once covered the northern portions of the world, including Russia, Europe, and the United States. These mammoths co-existed with both modern humans and neanderthals. Mammoths were frequently seen in early cave paintings, though horses and bison are more common.

Woolly mammoths coexisted with early humans, etching out a living alongside other ice age animals, such as the saber-toothed cat. Initially, it was thought that the changing climate drove woolly mammoths extinct, but recent evidence emerged to suggest that, in fact, mankind drove the beasts extinct. Armed with primitive weapons, early humans may have been able to hunt woolly mammoths down and drive them into extinction.

The evidence uncovered thus far, however has not been conclusive. In fact, only one uncovered skeleton showed conclusive signs of being harmed by human hunting weapons, in this case a spear. Still, as scientists uncover more information regarding human civilizations, it appears that hunting activities may have driven numerous animals extinct.

Certainly, the prospect of facing off with an elephant sized foe, armed with nothing more than a wooden spear and perhaps a few other simple weapons, must have been a daunting task, but scientists believe early humans were able to wipe out a huge number of species. It is even believed that humans used elaborate pit traps to kill the beasts.

Woolly mammoths were exploited not just for their meat, but for other reasons as well. Their massive bones could be used to build dwellings, and their ivory was frequently used to make jewelry and other objects. Numerous shelters fashioned from mammoth bones have been found in Siberia. 

The world is now in an extinction level event

The world is now considered to be in the mistof the Holocene extinction event, meaning yes we are all living through extinction. The on-going event is being caused by humans, however, not asteroids, volcanoes, and other natural phenomena. woollymammoths are believed to have been among the early victims of human-driven extinction.

Given the diversity of life on Earth, and how slowly things seem to be changing, it might not seem like we are in the midst of an extinction event. Historically, however, extinction events did not occur overnight, but instead were dragged out over thousands of years. Over the last 10,000 plus years, humans have hunted and otherwise destroyed a huge number of species.

The continued effects of habitat destruction, climate change, pollution, and other threats to the environment suggest that more species will become extinct in the decades to come. The current era is considered to be the sixth mass extinction, and has the climate continues to warm, scientists fear that extinctions will only accelerate.

Similar to the extinction of the wooly mammoths, a combination of changing weather and climate factors, as well as the direct impact of human activity, including hunting and pollution, could simply prove to be overwhelming for many species of animals. Generally speaking, animals adapt slowly through evolution, but the rapid transformations created by humans can simply overwhelm animals.