Off Beat Stories

Dec 14, 2009 8:57 AM by NBC

Prehistoric mammoth graveyard becomes museum

Discovered by two men searching for arrowheads 30 years ago, the site of the Waco Mammoth Museum contained the remains of 23 Columbian mammoths, along with a saber tooth cat and a camel.

The Columbian mammoth would dwarf a wooly mammoth or a modern elephant.

They stood 14 feet tall, weighed 10 tons with long tails to cool themselves and little hair for the warm climate of what is now Waco, Texas.

"They did prefer the warmer climates," said Baylor University's Mayborn Museum Collection Manager Anita Benedict. "They weren't wooly mammoths. They didn't have the long, shaggy coats that the woolies did. And they were grazers. They ate grass."

The mammoths would graze 20 hours a day and produce 400 pounds of dung every day. They traveled in packs, and when disaster struck this herd, the fossils tell the story.

"It looks like the adults are surrounding the juveniles in a protective circle similar to what modern day elephants do when they are facing a crisis of some sort," said Benedict.

It's believed that most of these mammoths perished in one cataclysmic event, a massive mudslide and flood 68,000 years ago, give or take a few centuries.

Other than one site in Siberia, this is the largest collection of mammoths that died from a singular event in the world. While paleontologists study most of the remains at Baylor University, some were kept in the ground for museum tours Tuesdays through Saturdays. As people enter the surreal climate-controlled chamber, they have a strange but understandable reaction.

"The word used was ‘reverence,'" said Museum Coordinator Anna Enderli. "I think that was a fantastic adjective to use. People are often very quiet when they see the remains, and thoughtful."

 

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