In September 2013, a mammoth skeleton was discovered by Access Midstream, a company excavating a trench for a new natural gas line in Alfalfa County, in northwest Oklahoma.
Dr. Lee Bement from the Oklahoma Archaeological Survey was notified and faculty and students from the OSU Department of Geography became involved in the project through the efforts of MS student Tom Cox, who recently worked with Dr. Bement. Tom is studying geoarcheology; specifically conducting a spatial and geomorphological study of mammoths and mastodons in Oklahoma. Tom Cox’s thesis falls within a broader study that Carlos Cordova is carrying out in the Great Plains. Titled Paleobiomes, Paleofires and Paleopastures, this project aims at reconstructing the habitats of mammoths and other large beasts in prehistoric times. The project also includes the study of modern elephant habitats in southern Africa, which is used as a modern analogue for understanding the relation mammoths had with their environment.
While we have not yet finished our analysis, the mammoth is believed to be approximately 50,000 years old, but it could be younger. Only future testing and analysis will give us a more exact date using an age determination technique called Optically Stimulated Luminescence (OSL). Oklahoma was definitely a part of the mammoth habitat. Mammoths like modern elephants are grazers, so the grasslands of the Great Plains were one of their most attractive habitats. It wasn’t until the extinction of the mammoths that Bison took over as the top grazers of the Great Plains.
For several weeks in September and October 2013, about 20 volunteers—faculty, students and family—have volunteered their time to help excavate the mammoth and bring it to OSU. Two of these volunteers, geography major Taylor Iberosi and geology major Shawna Smith, will spend the next few months working with Tom Cox, under guidance from Lee Bement and the Oklahoma Archaeological Survey and support from the Dean’s Excellence Fund, to turn bone fragments into bones and take stock of the remains.
Click here to read the OSU Press news release on this project.
Click here to watch a video from O-State TV on this project.