An evening shift shovel operator was the first to see it; he spotted a flash of white as he dumped a massive pile of dirt into a dump truck. After the truck driver emptied the cargo, a dozer operator was about to level the ground when he, too, saw the speck of white and paused to examine it more closely.
It wasn’t until that moment that the miners realized they had found something unique—a long, buried mammoth tusk measuring seven feet long.
At the Freedom Mine, close to Beulah, North Dakota, workers dug out the tusk from a dry bed of a former stream that was some forty feet below the surface. Specialists later determined that it was between 10,000 and 100,000 years old.
Jeff Person, a paleontologist from the North Dakota Geologic Survey, said given the size of the machinery used, he was surprised to hear that the mammoth tusk had sustained less damage.
More bones were discovered during a second excavation at the site of discovery. Excavations in North Dakota often only turn up individual mammoth bones, teeth, or tusk fragments, but this “trickle of findings” of over 20 bones—including a shoulder blade, ribs, a tooth, and portions of hips—is perhaps the most comprehensive mammoth ever discovered.
In prehistoric times, mammoths were familiar sights throughout the Americas, as well as in Asia and Europe. Paul Ullmann, a vertebrate paleontologist from the University of North Dakota, said specimens had been discovered throughout North America.
The North Dakota Geologic Survey reports that mammoths were extinct around 10,000 years ago in the present-day state of North Dakota. They wore thick wool and were more significant than elephants today. Mammoths appear in cave drawings that date back 13,000 years.
At over fifty pounds, this ivory tusk is on the delicate side. The paleontologists are attempting to regulate the pace of dehydration by wrapping it in plastic. According to Person, if the process is rushed, the bone might fracture and suffer permanent damage.
Until researchers find a safe way to remove the water, the bones will stay in plastic for a few months, at the very least. Later on, Person added, paleontologists will determine the species of mammoth.
North Dakota’s fossil record is extensive because of the terrain’s “low-elevation, lush, biologically productive habitats in the past,” according to scientists. The state is right next to the Rocky Mountains; thus, the state is constantly being eroded by rivers and sediments. These processes have been burying fossils of animals for at least 80 million years.