Mammoth Discovery in California

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Published on January 14th, 2009  |  Discuss This Article  

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California’s Santa Cruz Island is famous for its miniature foxes and baby bald eagles, but now a new creature is making headlines — the pygmy mammoth.

At least, that’s what researchers think the four-foot-long bone — recently unearthed on the island — once belonged to. (Check out the full story here.)

An archeology student from the University of California, Santa Barbara, made the discovery last week. She also found other bones – possibly rib and thigh bones — while excavating a Native American Chumash site.

While this isn’t the first discovery of mammoth remains on Santa Cruz and other Channel Islands, it is one of the few intact tusk bones to be found here. And the location of the find is new, leading researchers to consider that mammoths might have roamed Santa Cruz’s deep valleys and rough terrain more widely than previously thought.

Speaking of roaming… one might wonder, just how did mammoths get to an island off the coast of Ventura and Los Angeles anyway?

Scientists believe Santa Cruz and the other Channel Islands were once all part of a big island called Santarosae. Just five miles of water separated this landmass from the mainland.

And what else but the smell of food — in this case, lush island grasses — would have inspired a mammoth to swim those five miles? When sea levels began to rise centuries later, the Channel Islands were isolated from the mainland and the mammoths stranded.

It’s this isolation that makes Santa Cruz so unique. The island is home to numerous plants and animals — including the tiny fox – that evolved in isolation. That’s why the Conservancy has spent nearly 30 years restoring it from the damages of feral sheep and pigs and invasive species.

While the discovery of a mammoth tusk might not seem like it has much to do with conservation, the Conservancy’s Santa Cruz Island Project Director Lotus Vermeer says it does:

“This discovery underscores the importance of protecting unique landscapes like Santa Cruz Island,” says Vermeer. “Not only to preserve its plants and animals, but to keep alive the amazing cultural history of the island’s Native American Chumash, who lived in an era when mammoths roamed these islands.”

Whether the bones are indeed from a mammoth or not will be decided by mammoth expert Dr. Larry D. Agenbroad, director of the Mammoth Site of Hot Springs, South Dakota. He will begin excavating the site in late January.

Until then, the discovery is a good reminder of what once roamed the planet.

(Image: Mammoth tusk discovered on Santa Cruz Island. Credit: Kristina Gill.)

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Comments: Mammoth Discovery in California

  •  Comment from Jay Raney

    Is there any way I can rejoin the Nature Conservancy and be paperless? No bulletins, no requests for money, no printed materials at all ever again!

    Thanks,

    Jay

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