An incredible discovery was made off the coast of California when an ancient mammoth tusk was found in 10,000 feet of water. The tusk belonged to a Columbian mammoth that was alive more than 100,000 years ago.
Columbian mammoths (also known as Mammuthus columbi) were huge, measuring 4 meters (13 feet) at the shoulders and weighing as much as 10 tonnes (22,000 pounds or 10,000 kilograms). They lived as far as the northern part of the United States all the way down to Costa Rica during the Pleistocene epoch (2.6 million to 11,700 years ago). They had very long curved tusks with four molars that were replaced six times throughout their lifetime. Incredibly, the largest known tusk that belonged to a Columbian mammoth measured 4.9 meters (16 feet). These creatures may have lived as long as 80 years.
As for the most recent discovery, the tusk was spotted in 2019 by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) who was exploring the ocean when they found what appeared to be an elephant tusk. Researchers then returned to the site this summer and recovered the tusk and realized that what they had in their possession belonged to a Columbian mammoth.
The tusk, which measured one meter in length (3.3 feet), was well-preserved due to the cold, high-pressure environment of the ocean. Thanks to computed tomography (CT) scans, the experts were able to determine that the creature lived over 100,000 years ago. This means that it is one of the oldest and best preserved mammoth tusks that have ever been found in the area.
Scientist Terrence Blackburn explained how they determined how old it was, “Our age estimate on the tusk is largely based on the natural radioactive decay of certain uranium and thorium isotopes imparted to the tusk from the ocean.”
As a matter of fact, it is quite rare to find any mammoth remains more than “tens of meters” underneath the water (the tusk mentioned in this article was found 3,048 meters underwater). “This specimen's deep-sea preservation environment is different to anything we have seen elsewhere,” said palaeontologist Daniel Fisher.
Researchers are hoping that the tusk will reveal even more information regarding the life of the Columbian mammoth as explained by Mr. Blackburn, “Mammoth remains from continental North America are particularly rare, and so we expect that DNA from this tusk will go far to refine what we know about mammoths in this part of the world.”
Pictures of the mammoth tusk can be seen here.