Recently, a natural gas company employee operating a bulldozer came across the remains of a Columbian mammoth in the sandbar of a river channel. The remains were found in Alva, 150 miles northwest of Oklahoma City. Though finding mammoth bones is a regular occurrence in the state, with 2-3 discoveries a year, with each find comes additional data.
Researchers, including Oklahoma State University’s Carlos Cordova will analyze the tartar buildup in the teeth for encased plants, learning more about the environment where the mammoth lived. Mammoths were vegetarians, eating grasses, sedges, brush, trees and woody plants. They spent nearly 18 hours a day eating, consuming 150,000 calories and hundreds of pounds of food each day. The findings will be included in a larger study by doctoral student Tim Cox who is researching the distribution of mammoths in Oklahoma.
Columbian mammoths (Mammuthus columbi) roamed North America during the Pleistocene epoch. This species is not to be confused with the smaller Woolly mammoth found in the Arctic during the Ice Age. This species stood up to 14 feet tall (over four meters) at the shoulder, 13-15 feet (4-4.5 meters) long and weighed in at a hefty 18,000-22,000 pounds (8,000-10,000 kilograms). Their tusks grew up to 16 feet (almost five meters) long. Unlike their northern woolly neighbors, they had little hair. They also lived up to 80 years.
These mammoths arrived in North America around 1.5 million years ago, whereas woolly mammoths arrived on the scene 400,000 years ago. Interesting is the fact that the earliest humans living in what is now Oklahoma, co-existed with these massive creatures and may have hunted them.
Leland Belmont of the Oklahoma Archaeological Survey says,
Archaeological fieldwork is always exciting. You never know what you are going to find. When it come to mammoth finds, we are always on the lookout for the next one that has projectile points or stone tools associated with it to indicate that the animal was killed and butchered. We have so few of these sites across North America and only one so far in Oklahoma … We don’t know the cause of death (of the remains recently found). There is no sign that people killed or butchered it. Is skull was washed around in the river. The rest of the animal could be anywhere.
Unfortunately, these fascinating creatures went extinct around 13,000 years ago. All that remain are skulls, bones and teeth to analyze and imagine how Oklahoma was during the time when mammoths ruled the Plains.