A Michigan farmer was digging up one of his soy fields this week with the help of a friend when the two men made a startling discovery. What first appeared to be a buried post turned out to be a once-in-a-lifetime find as the two men slowly uncovered the nearly-complete skeleton of a woolly mammoth.
Various reports indicate that farmer James Bristle and a friend were digging a drainage ditch or prepping for a natural gas line this past Monday when they hit an obstruction about eight feet down.
“It was probably a rib bone that came up,” Bristle told MLive. “We thought it was a bent fence post. It was covered in mud.”
Trent Satterthwaite, Bristol’s neighbor and friend, told The Detroit Free Press that he recalled joking, “I think we just found a dinosaur or something.”
The men soon discovered that while the fence post wasn’t a fence post, it wasn’t a dinosaur either.
Paleontologists from the University of Michigan were called in to assess the situation, and they determined that the farmers had stumbled onto at least part of a woolly mammoth skeleton.
According to Dan Fisher, a professor from the University of Michigan, they were given one day to dig up and remove the lucky find.
The Detroit Free Press reports that roughly 15 personnel from the University of Michigan descended on the muddy field to help pull the remains of the woolly mammoth out of the ground, with the assistance of a local excavator James Bollinger.
For Bollinger, helping to dig up the woolly mammoth find was the chance of a lifetime.
“It’s a pretty exciting day,” Bollinger told the Detroit Free Press. “I’ve been digging for 45 years and I’ve never dug anything up like that.”
As the team worked to uncover the woolly mammoth, it became clear that this was an especially unique find.
While some 30 mammoths have been discovered in Michigan, Fisher told the Detroit Free Press that very few of those finds involved anything close to an entire skeleton.
While the remains found on James Bristle’s land weren’t complete, the Washington Post reports that the woolly mammoth skeleton was only missing its hind limbs, feet and some other minor bones. Additionally, the fact that paleontologists were able to extract the skeleton whole may allow them to learn much more from this skeleton than they have from others.
More of the skeleton may remain buried in the soy field, but Fisher and his team were only given one day to work.
Early indications are that the woolly mammoth lived some 10-15,000 years ago, and it was probably killed by human hunters. Marks on some of the bones indicate that the animal was butchered, and Fisher indicated that the hunters had probably placed it in a pond as a sort of primitive meat preservation technique.
The missing parts, including the hind quarters, were probably consumed and discarded elsewhere, according to Fisher.
While the discovery of a tusked skeleton in Michigan easily conjures up images of a woolly mammoth, Fisher indicated that the animal may not have been woolly at all. Fisher told the Detroit Free Press that the mammoth skeleton may actually belong to a Jeffersonian mammoth.
Jeffersonian mammoths are thought to have been hybrids of woolly and Colombian mammoths due to the fact that they share characteristics with both species. However, further DNA testing will be required, as more specimens are found, to say for sure.
Fisher told MLive that while the bones belong to Bristle, as they were discovered on his land, he hopes that the farmer will donate his woolly mammoth find to the Univeristy of Michigan for further study.
[Images via YouTube and Peter Macdiarmid / Getty Images News]