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Contact: Yvonne Menard, 805-658-5725
Ventura, CA —This month, scientists plan to begin their research and preservation of the mammoth skull that was excavated in September on Santa Rosa Island within Channel Islands National Park. They will remove the protective plaster cast and unveil this very well-preserved mammoth skull on Wednesday, February 8 at 11:00 am, at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History.
The public is invited to attend, and will also have opportunities to observe researchers who will be working on the mammoth skull every Saturday and Monday afternoon, from 1:00 to 5:00 pm, throughout the month of February, at the SBMNH.
“The museum is excited to share this intriguing discovery. This mammoth find is of high scientific importance as it appears to have been on the Channel Islands at nearly the same time as humans,” stated Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History President and CEO Luke Swetland.
U.S. Geological Survey geologists have dated charcoal samples adjacent to the specimen to approximately 13,000 years. The dating is significant, since it coincides with the age of Arlington Man, the oldest human skeletal remains in North America. Similar soil samples will also be analyzed to give researchers more information.
“This skull and the minute fossils of rodents and amphibians recovered from the incasing sediments will help us to reconstruct the local environment in which this mammoth lived,” said The Mammoth Site Chief Scientist Jim Mead.
The National Park Service, The Mammoth Site, and the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History are working in close partnership to protect and preserve the mammoth specimen and conduct a multidisciplinary research process, which is expected to occur over the next few years.
Channel Islands National Park Superintendent Russell Galipeau said, “The National Park Service is very grateful to be working in partnership with the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History and the Mammoth Site to conduct research on this rare mammoth skull, in an effort to uncover some mysteries associated with mammoth migration, the downsizing to a pygmy form, and the eventual disappearance of mammoths from the Channel Islands.”
The scientific team consists of The Mammoth Site paleontologist Justin Wilkins, preparator Monica Bugbee, and Chief Scientist Jim Mead, museum Curator of Vertebrate Zoology Paul Collins, and retired National Park Service archaeologist Don Morris.
Mammoths roamed the continent of North America beginning approximately two million years ago, with Columbian mammoths appearing a million years later. It is believed that the Columbian mammoths migrated to the Channel Islands during the past two ice ages when sea levels were lower and the island land mass was closer to the mainland coast. Over time, descendants of the migrants downsized from approximately 14 feet, the size of the adult Columbian mammoth, to a six-foot-tall pygmy form, becoming an endemic species known as Mammuthus exilis.
The new mammoth specimen was first discovered in September 2014, by National Park Service biologist Peter Larramendy, who noticed an ivory tusk protruding from gravel sediment in the canyon wall while he was conducting a stream study.
The size of the specimen is unusual. It is not large enough to be readily identified as a Columbian mammoth and not small enough to definitively qualify as a pygmy mammoth. The scientists question whether the specimen could be a young Columbian mammoth or possibly an intermediate-sized transitional specimen.
The scientists have informally and affectionately named the mammoth find Larry, in recognition of Larramendy and their distinguished colleague, the late Larry Agenbroad, one of the world’s leading mammoth paleontologists.
Protecting Paleontological Resources
Paleontological resources at Channel Islands National Park, and particularly mammoth fossils, represent an important aspect of the scientific significance of the park. National Park Service policy guides the park to protect scientifically significant resources through collection or on-site protection and stabilization. This mammoth skull was collected, since it had eroded out of the stream bank and was at risk of being damaged.
Park visitors are encouraged to see and experience these amazing resources, but must leave them in place undisturbed. Collecting, possessing, trafficking in, removing, destroying, injuring, defacing, or disturbing paleontological resources is prohibited by federal law and agency regulations.
For images of the excavation: Mammoth Excavation Santa Rosa Island