A Mammoth Surprise | God's World News
A Mammoth Surprise
Science Soup
Posted: March 01, 2024
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    Coal miners unearthed a mammoth tusk in May 2023 at the Freedom Mine near Beulah, North Dakota. (Coleman Fredricks via AP)
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    Paleontologist Jeff Person examines mammoth bones wrapped in plastic in Bismarck, North Dakota, on December 19, 2023. (AP/Jack Dura)
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    Jeff Person sits behind a seven-foot mammoth tusk. (AP/Jack Dura)
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    An unveiling of the restored Durfort mammoth at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris, France (Sipa via AP Images)
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    Compared to people, mammoths were monstrous in size. (stock)
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What was that glinting in the dirt?

A shovel operator working overnight at a coal mine near Beulah, North Dakota, spotted it first. He scooped up the surrounding mound of dirt. He dropped it all into a dump truck. Plop.

Later, a dozer driver was ready to flatten the dirt. But he stopped for a closer look. He, too, had seen that bit of white.

What did the miners find? It was a seven-foot-long mammoth tusk. It had been buried for thousands of years!

The miners stopped digging and called the experts.

Paleontologist Jeff Person arrived at the scene. (Paleontologists study fossils.) Why wasn’t the tusk more damaged by the massive equipment used at the site? “It’s miraculous that it came out pretty much unscathed,” Mr. Person says.

Diggers found more. A shoulder blade. Ribs. A tooth. Parts of hips. Dakotans have dug up mammoth bits before. But they’ve probably never found one this complete.

Ancient cave paintings show mammoths. The larger-than-elephant animals once roamed parts of Africa, Asia, Europe, and North America. Thick wool covered them. They became extinct thousands of years ago.

The mammoth tusk weighs more than 50 pounds—as much as a large bag of dog food or small bale of hay. It is breakable, so it is carefully wrapped in plastic. Paleontologists try to control how fast it dries out. Too quickly, and the tusk could break apart.

Who gets to keep the tusk and bones? The miners will donate them to the state of North Dakota. They hope students will study the remains.

David Straley is an executive of North American Coal. That company owns the mine where the tusk was found. He says, “Our goal is to give it to the kids.”

Why? Paleontology is a big job that requires patience, diligence, and plenty of curiosity.