Finding something that you didn’t know was there is exhilarating. So imagine what Michigan farmer James Bristle felt after he stumbled upon a find of massive proportions in 2015.
“It was probably a rib bone that came up,” he told mlive.com. “We thought it was a bent fence post. It was covered in mud.”
But as they continued to dig around the large, unknown object, they realized it was something far more significant. Not only was it massive in size, it was massive in terms of importance to the scientific community.
While digging on his farm near Chelsea, Michigan, James Bristle unearthed what would later be identified as the bones of a Woolly Mammoth.
At first, Bristle wasn’t sure what he was looking at.
“We knew it was something that was out of the norm,” Bristle said. “My grandson came over to look at it, he’s 5 years old, he was speechless.”
Realizing that what he’d dug up could be of significance, Bristle called Dan Fisher of the Museum of Paleontology at the University of Michigan. Fisher, along with a handful of students, descended on the site and were shocked by what they saw. The skeletal remains of the mammoth comprised about 30 to 40 percent of the entire body.
James Bristle gave the team at the University of Michigan one full day to excavate the site. After excavation was complete, he donated the findings to the University of Michigan for research.
Fisher and a dedicated group of graduate students got to work as soon as the sun came up. Local excavator James Bollinger lent large machinery and his expertise for the job. According to the Detroit News, Bollinger described the work as exciting, but tedious.
“I’d uncover an inch at a time and then they’d examine that area,” Bollinger said. “We kept digging and found the top of the skull, a ton of ribs, teeth and neck vertebrae. Then we uncovered both tusks. The tusks, with the curve, had to be eight feet long.”
Scientists believe the mammoth was roughly 45 years old when it died, and that it was killed by hunters in the area. The excavation yielded parts of the skull, jaw, vertebrae, and ribs.
Bristle says his family has owned the plot of land across the street from the finding since the 1950s. But the piece of land where the discovery was made had only been his for about two months. The discovery was made while digging to install drainage in his new field.
He described the finding as exciting, but inconvenient. He says he’s glad he called the university to come take a look for themselves and feels like he made the right decision.
The University of Michigan now proudly displays the mammoth in their Natural History Museum. They built a fourth-floor room specially dedicated to the finding made on Bristle’s farm.
Because of the donation, the team at the university was able to examine the mammoth more closely and make more definitive determinations about its size. The believe it weighed somewhere between seven and eight tons; and stood approximately 10 feet from the floor to its shoulder.
The University of Michigan intends to keep the mammoth on display at its current location until January of 2018. At that point, it will be moved to their new on-campus location where it will be one of the centerpieces of the entire museum.
Watch the exciting excavation below: