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Mammoth Remains Unearthed at Michigan Farm, Hint at Ancient Human Butchering

Researchers have found 40 additional bones, including the skull, tusks and teeth of an ice age creature

University of Michigan paleontologist Daniel Fisher holds up an intact mammoth rib unearthed from the field. (Daryl Marshke, Michigan Photography)
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Two years ago, James Bristle, a Michigan soybean farmer, found the bones of a woolly-Columbian mammoth hybrid while installing a drainage system on one of his fields. Now, according to a press release from the University of Michigan, they've found more. Researchers have unearthed around 40 additional bones, including the skull, tusks and teeth of an ice age creature.

“We got the kind of information that we need to do the science right, and we were also able to recover an impressive amount of additional material from this animal," says University of Michigan paleontologist Daniel Fisher, who led both Bristle digs and who is overseeing the analysis of the bones and the environmental samples, says in the press release. “I'm confident that as a result of this second excavation, we'll have more insight into what happened here.”

The researchers decided to revisit the site after learning that one of the mammoth bones had a radiocarbon date of more than 15,000 years old and hints from the first find suggest the creature was butchered by ancient humans. The mammoth’s remains were discovered within pond sediments and researchers believe that early humans cut up the carcass and stored part of the animal at the bottom of a pond.

Researchers plan to extract and analyze the fungal spores and pollen grains within the sediments to get a better sense of when the mammoths were present, when they became extinct and how their vegetation changed over time.

Though researchers were only able to recover a skull with both tusks attached and multiple other bones during the first dig in 2015, which only lasted a day, they found out that the mammoth lived to an age of around 45 and had likely tromped across the lands  between 11,700 and 15,000 years ago, writes Martin Slagter for MLive. The bones found in the initial excavation were later displayed at the University of Michigan’s Museum of Natural History in November 2016.

"It was such a hurried thing the first time around," Bristle, who renamed his farm Mammoth Acres after that find, says in the release. "So this is an opportunity to complete the discovery process."

The recent find contributes to other scientific efforts to understand the life and demise of the furry giant. Recent studies suggest that the lack of genetic diversity in the dwindling mammoth population was possibly one of several factors that led to its extinction, Charlie Wood reported for The Christian Science Monitor earlier this year. It’s not entirely clear whether these genetic mutations led to the demise of the Wrangel Island mammoths, but the timing their extinction is of interest to researchers. These findings, experts say, could contribute to our modern conservation efforts.

Though the latest finding doesn't hold answers to the mystery of the mammoths’ demise, it does help researchers further tease apart the life histories of these massive beasts and could provide clues to their interactions with ancient humans.

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