Recently we were pleasantly surprised when a couple of our grandchildren phoned to say they were coming for a visit! Yea….then the question hit us…”what’s something new we can take them to”? We thought for awhile and finally an idea floated into my brain – “let’s take them to the Waco Mammoth Park”. With that, the decision was made.
After much anticipation the morning of the trip arrived. The park did not open until 11:00 a.m. so we had plenty of time to get up, have breakfast, and travel to Waco, or so I thought. Going up I35 would have been my choice and we would have been there in an hour but hubby took the back roads, which extended our sight seeing tour by an additional 45 minutes!
Finally we arrived…from the registration building we saw nothing but shortly afterward, our tour guide started down the path to a large building which housed the “working site”. Our guide went on to inform us the site (approximately 100 acres) is located between two rivers; the Bosque River and the Brazos River. Scientists felt many types of wildlife were attracted to this area as it was a very fertile area, with tall grasses and plants. Then in 1978, a couple of young men were walking down the ravine after they’d been fishing in one of the rivers, when they stumbled on a large domed object. After looking further, they discovered it was some large type of bone and immediately summoned help from Baylor University’s anthropology department.
In the ravine area where the first bones were discovered, anthropologists, paleontologist and students began digging and overtime unearthed 19 of the Columbian Mammoth fossils. The Columbian mammoth is a distant relative of the Woolly mammoth, which stayed further north in much colder regions. Another herd of Columbian Mammoth fossils were discovered in Hot Springs, South Dakota, along with “Woolly Mammoths”.
The Waco site is the only known discovery of a nursery herd (female mammoths and their offspring) in North America. This is also the largest known collection of Columbian mammoths that died in a single event. After many months/years of research, it was further discovered the Waco mammoths perished in a series of flood-related events spread across thousands of years. One of the earliest events took place approximately 68,000 years ago. There are only three other areas in the world where a “nursery herd” has been discovered; these are in Russia, Siberia and the Netherlands.
With the discovery if the large nursery herd in Waco, the fossils were moved to Baylor’s Museum for protection. Once further fossils were found outside the ring of the nursery herd, a building was erected over the current dig site.
Prior to entering the building, we were instructed the building is a climate/humidity controlled area and nothing can be taken inside that could possibly alter the controlled atmosphere (i.e. food, gum or drinks). Now one would think at that moment that taking 15+ individuals who had been walking and sweating in the Texas heat, could possibly alter the controlled conditions, but our tour guide seemed to think differently, so in we went!
As we entered, our guide continued to talk, providing additional facts about the large mammoths: like the Columbian mammoths were one of the largest mammals to have lived during the Pleistocene Epoch, they grew to more than 14′ in height and weighed up to 10 tons (20,000#), one of their teeth could be as large as a four-pound shoe box; they had six sets of teeth during their lifetime which could span up to 75 years, and the mammoths spent up to 20 hours a day eating between 300-700# of grass and large fruits producing … 400+ pounds of dung a day.
Finally, we were given the go ahead to look and look we did. Much to our surprise, the bones/fossils were laying in various positions on top of the ground below the catwalks. Our guide stated that if disturbed further, the bones would crumble into dust; thus the controlled atmosphere was built. (Many of the complete fossils (including those of the nursery herd) had been removed and placed in a museum at Baylor to protect the integrity of the fossils, until such time as a laboratory can be built on site.) Scientist and paleontologists from the Smithsonian and around the world, have visited the site. A few paleontologist students from Baylor still dig on the weekends, as not all the area within the building have been dug. Amongst the fossils they have discovered inside the building so far are a bull mammoth, female mammoth, baby/juvenile mammoth, camel, and a tooth from a young saber tooth cat.
Fossil of a Bull mammoth – scientist believe he fell right where he died – holding apparently a juvenile in his tusks attempting to protect it from the disaster that ultimately took their lives.
Due to the way the mammoths fell, some of their bones are actually still laying underneath the ones shown un-earthed.
So now the questions is …has anyone been to the South Dakota site? If so, I’d like to hear about your visit.