Mammoths in South Dakota

ToadDate 0256.06.11.17-SD

Today we drove to Hot Springs, South Dakota, to visit the Mammoth Site. This is the site of a sink hole that is about 26,000 years old. The hole was about 65 feet deep and 100 feet across and was full of water.

Animals came to the water to get a drink or to eat some of the green grass that was growing near the sinkhole. They were not aware of the danger that the sinkhole presented to them. The sides of the sinkhole were very steep and slick, careless animals fell into the sinkhole and could not find a way to climb out.

Paleontologists have unearthed many kinds of animals there including 58 Columbian Mammoths and 3 Wooly Mammoths. It is unusual to find the 2 different types of mammoths in the same place. The Wooly Mammoths look like those in the Ice Age movies. The Columbian Mammoths looked much like todays elephants but were much taller, weighed more, and had huge tusks.

By the way, only young male mammoths have been found in the sinkhole. Scientists speculate that the Mammoths lived in a matriarchal society like present day elephants. Young bulls 2-4 years old who were entering adulthood were chased away from the herd and had to find their own way in life.

Also found have been remains of: mink, prairie dogs, short faced bear, (now extinct, but impressive, a full-grown bear walking on all four feet could look directly into the eyes of someone who is 5’ 7”), wolves, camels, and many others. The dig is continuing, they think it will take another 50 years to fully explore it.

What the paleontologists are finding here are bones – not fossilized like at Ashfall – just very old bones. The animals that drowned in the water sank to the bottom and would be covered by other animal bodies and sediment. These are bones that are very fragile. The bones were in the water long enough that the DNA has been leeched out so paleontologists have a difficult time identifying which bones belong to the same animal unless they are found together.

When they remove a bone, they must wrap it in a plaster cast, much like you would wrap a broken leg, and then they can move it without it breaking.

The dig is enclosed in a large building and most of the mammoth bones have been left in-situ like those at Ashfall fossil beds.

There are tours included in the admission price that take you thru the building and show you what is going on. We only saw 1 paleontologist working on the dig while we were there. If you want you can sign up to help with the dig, they provide a two-week course to train you on the process. This could be great fun for a junior paleontologist.

Our RV is still parked at the campground in Hermosa. The campground location makes it possible for us to do day trips to see the sites and not have to move the RV. Also, we have full hookups so I can start a load of laundry before we leave for the day and it is finished when we get home.

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