One Montana cattle rancher was ecstatic when an enormous Colombian mammoth’s skeleton, estimated to be as old as 20,000 years, was unearthed from his property. This amazing find could help shed light on how the mammoths once lived and died out.
While an angler was strolling along the Powder River in southeastern Montana in the United States, he came across several huge bones, protruding from the soil of the riverbank.
The man gave the Carter County Museum a map of the location of his fortuitous finding, using Google Maps. The museum then contacted the property owner, Lee Randall, about a possible prehistoric discovery.
So, Randall, a cattle rancher, hunted down the exact location from the map the man had given. He found the spot and saw the bones poking out of the riverbank.
Several bone specimens had been unearthed from his property previously, but they were never this huge.
“You couldn’t see anything else, but we kept going down and found a couple more ribs,” Randall told the Tribune in 2017.
By the time they had made the discovery, it was already late summer in 2016; hence, Randall and a team of paleontologists from the museum decided to excavate the buried remains the following summer.
“The anticipation of it—it’s something that’s been on my mind all summer long,” said Randall.
They completed excavation of all the bones over the course of two summers and then took them to the Carter County Museum for examination. After investigation, the paleontologists confirmed that the bones belonged to a Columbian mammoth, estimated to be between 10,000 and 20,000 years old. They are unsure of its sex though.
“It is one of the most complete Columbian Mammoths found in Montana,” Carter County Museum director Sabre Moore told The Ekalaka Eagle. “We think that it was pretty young for a mammoth, somewhere around 30 years old. We know that because the humerus wasn’t fully fused yet.”
The bulk of the skeleton was well preserved, with several ribs, leg bones, “largely intact” tusks, and molars.
“The tusks’ size was six or seven feet, by far not the biggest ones,” Randall said. “But even being seven feet, they were just colossal.”
“I was pretty ecstatic about that,” Randall said. “It was a once in a lifetime deal for me.”
A hotbed for fossils and artifacts, to date, several different dinosaur remains have been excavated from the area of eastern Montana, including the “most complete juvenile tyrannosaurus,” according to the Tribune.
Nathan Carroll, adjunct curator at the Carter County Museum, hopes the new find can help them learn a thing or two about how mammoths lived and went extinct.
“We went through some pretty big changes ten-ish thousand years ago in terms of animals and landscape, and it’s not clear why that happened, so every time we get a new data point, it’s super helpful for that story,” Carroll said.
The bones were then sent to the Carter County Museum to undergo a preservation process for a year, before the staff put the pieces together like a “prehistoric puzzle.”
“I’m really excited to see what the rest of the skull and rest of the animal looks like,” Carroll said. “It’s just not that common that you get full mammoths coming out, so it’s pretty cool we were able to capture this one.”
The Carter County Museum will begin its expansion project in 2020. Once its expansion is completed, the Columbian mammoth, as well as many other fossils and artifacts, will be put on display.
I can't imagine any experience that will top excavating a Columbian Mammoth out of the ground (a river no less) with the…