The Mammoth Discovery of 8-8-88

(Note: I have another post here, with a detailed article by Patsy Stoddard.)

Just down the hill you will find the site of one of the most unusual discoveries of a Columbian Mammoth ever unearthed.

This Mammoth died at a record-high elevation (9,000 feet) for the species, which is generally regarded as a plains animal. The age of the Huntington Mammoth was roughly 65 years (based on comparisons of dental wear in modern elephants), and was one of the last Columbian Mammoths to live in North America.

The mud surrounding the mammoth was barely above freezing, acting as a refrigerator for almost 10,000 years. Dr. David Gillette, then Utah State Paleontologist, said, “At the excavation it was so fresh we thought we could smell rotting meat in one place.

Where is the Mammoth now?

The College of Eastern Utah Prehistoric Museum is located in Price and is one of four nationally accredited museums in the State of Utah. The museum houses the original mammoth skeleton in a special climate controlled storage area.

The Fairview Museum of History and Art also has a life-size replica of the mammoth on display.

How was the Mammoth found?

Backhoe operator Chris Nielson was part of a crew reconstructing the dam here at Huntington Reservoir on August 8, 1988. The bucket brought up what appeared to be a log. Closer examination revealed it was the bone of a very large animal. The bone was moved to higher ground and authorities were notified.

No one knows why a grassland mammoth found its way up into Huntington Canyon, but with climatic warming throughout the region, the Huntington Mammoth may have been driven to high altitudes in search of moderate temperatures.

This canyon may have become an ecological refuge, remaining cool and habitable for the mammoth long after lower elevations lost their lushness.

Previous elevation records for a mammoth was at an elevation of 7,200 feet in New Mexico, and this discovery site was at 9,000 feet and a great distance further north.

The large bull Columbian Mammoth discovered at this site was over 95 per cent complete, and all the way down to the small toe bones, and the bones of the tail. Amazingly, stomach contents were preserved in the body cavity of this specimen, consisting of poor foods such as fir needles.

Its preservation in a cool bog is a textbook case. The icy mud acted like a refrigerator for many years after the animals death, helping to make it one of the best specimens ever unearthed.

Analysis of the bones revealed intact proteins very similar to modern elephants. Preservation of unusually good down to microscopic scale, with bone cells preserving even DNA-bearing nuclei.