It was just a normal day on the farm for James Bristle. He and his buddy were set to dig up the soybean field in his southern Michigan farm when they suddenly unearthed what they thought could only be an old fence post. But it was crooked and caked in thick layers of dry mud. He began dusting it off and trying to see what material it was made of. That’s when he realized it wasn’t a wood fence post – it was part of a woolly mammoth’s pelvis that had stampeded around America more than 15,000 years ago. As soon as Bristle realized that he was standing atop an paleological goldmine, he called up the scientists at the University of Michigan and told them all about the huge mammal on his land.
When the university team heard Bristle’s news, they rushed their best paleontologists and an excavator out to the man’s soybean field and started tearing up the property. Through their hard work and Bristle’s smart observation, they found about 20 percent of the woolly mammoth’s skeleton at Bristle’s farm in Washtenaw County’s Lima Township. It was a huge find for such a small, American town. Nothing this exciting had happened there in a long while.
Besides the huge pelvis, the researchers discovered the skull and two tusks and several vertebrae, ribs and both of the woolly mammoth’s shoulder blades. It was a successful excavation.
“We think that humans were here and may have butchered and stashed the meat so that they could come back later for it,” Daniel Fisher, the dig leader, said.
The scientists also found three basketball-sized boulders near the woolly mammoth remains that could have been used to either bludgeon the beast to death or anchor the carcass in a pond for future storage.
Woolly mammoths and mastodons, which are both elephant-like animals, were frequently sighted in North America until they died out about 11,700 years ago. Michigan has been a treasure trove of these animal remains. About 300 mastodons and 30 mammoth remains have been found there alone. But few mammoths are as complete as the one they found in Bristle’s soybean field.
Bristle only bought the property a few months before the discovery. He was digging up the land to make room for a natural gas line when he found the creature’s buried remains.
“When my five-year-old grandson came over and saw the pelvis, he just stood there with his jaw wide open and stared. He was in awe,” Bristle said.
Now that all the bones have been removed from Bristle’s property, the research team at the University of Michigan will take a close look at them and see if there is evidence of human activity. They’ll look for cut marks and other imperfections that would indicate this woolly mammoth died because it was hunted.
These research findings, if indicative of human activity, could help archaeologists understand where and when humans first came to the Americas from Asian and Africa.
What would you do if you found woolly mammoth remains in your backyard?