Ice Age Animals

Last week we left the Farm on a quick, nostalgic trip to the Black Hills. We did all the “touristy” things that we haven’t done for decades, including the Mammoth Site at Hot Springs. My bright wife suggested that we take along a box of bones from the Creek (why didn’t I think of that?) to show them to the professional staff at the Mammoth Site. And so, that’s what we did.

The director of research at the Mammoth Site is the same paleontologist who worked on a tusk excavated at Hills, MN, (about 20 miles west of the Farm) earlier this month. Dr. Jim Mead was extremely helpful and identified several of the fossils that were illustrated in the post from Lone Tree Farm last week. This currant post has lots of pictures from our visit to the Mammoth Site. Thanks to Dr. Mead we now know that our Kanaranzi Creek pasture has the remains of several animals from the Ice Age, about 10,000 years ago.

The tooth on the left is from the Farm. Dr. Mead described it as a lower tooth from a young Columbian mammoth. The teeth in the right are still in place in the excavations at the Mammoth Site. The flat ridges on mammoth teeth are designed to grind up grass in contrast to the conical ridges on mastodon teeth that were more effective for browsing twigs on trees and shrubs. There are no mastodons at the Mammoth Site. Last week I incorrectly said that our tooth is from a wooly mammoth, but there’s a big difference in size and population. For example, the Mammoth Site has the remains of 56 Columbian mammoths, but only 4 wooly mammoths. 

Mammoths only had four big teeth, two upper and two lower. Here’s a picture of a reconstruction that shows the position in the skull. That skull is part of the total skeleton shown on the right.

The bone on the left is from Lone Tree Farm. It eroded out of the Creek bank this past spring. Dr. mead identified it as part of a leg bone from an extinct Ice Age bison. The picture on the right is a similar bone on display at the Mammoth Site. So, now we have a 10,000 year-old bison bone to go with the 1,000 year-old bison bones from our archaeological site located in about the same area.

Here’s the location of the leg bone in the Ice Age bison compared to the human skeleton. And, here’s the skull that shows how large the horns were. These are both displays from the Mammoth Site. These Ice Age animals were big!

This partial horn from the Creek may be from an Ice Age bison. Dr. Mead was not absolutely certain, but the size and curvature do suggest that it’s probably not one from a modern bison.

There are a couple displays at the Mammoth Site that illustrate just how big these extinct animals were, relative to their modern counterparts. The Columbian mammoth is the big dark gray guy, the wooly mammoth outline is brown, and the modern African and Asian elephants are also shown in shades of gray. The biggest bison is the extinct long-horn species probably represented by our leg bone and the smallest bison is the modern one that is probably associated with our archaeological site.

Last fall we had some preliminary work done on the archaeological site located down in our Creek pasture. She helped us get this Native American site registered with the state and another archaeologist identified a piece of pottery associated with a culture that was here about 1,000 years ago. We need to have some more work done on those artifacts and buffalo bones, but now we additionally have a nearby site of fossil bones from Ice Age animals. The work on these bones from 10,000 years ago will have to be done by a paleontologist. “Science marches on!”

About Lone Tree Farm on Kanaranzi Creek

Recovering academic, earth scientist in phased retirement, farm manager by default, son, husband, father, grandfather.
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