Erosion of an irrigation drainage due to heavy rainfall earlier this year has resulted in the discovery of the remains of a Columbian mammoth near the American Falls Reservoir in southeastern Idaho.
Officials at the Idaho Museum of Natural History, where the fossils of the ancient animal had been transferred, said on Oct. 24 that they had received the remains of what is believed to be a 16-year-old mammoth that likely lived 70,000 to 120,000 years ago in what used to be a savanna-like country. The area might have served as home for large predatory animals and plant eaters.
The fossils of the ancient animal were spotted earlier this month by a fossil hunter who works for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. Instructors and students from the Idaho State University did the excavation work, yielding a portion of the mammoth's skull and tusk, which were later turned over to the Idaho Museum of Natural History.
Experts said that an entire skeleton is likely buried there, but the team decided to postpone the excavation because the reservoir's water level had risen; this had them working while standing in water. They intend to continue the work next summer once the water level in the reservoir has dropped.
"It gives us a little more time to prepare if this is a complete mammoth, to get the funds together," said Mary Thompson, a university instructor who also serves as the collections manager of the Idaho Museum of Natural History. "This is going to be substantial to go out and excavate a complete mammoth."
Thomson said that it isn't the first time that fossils have been discovered in the area as it has already produced fossils of different extinct species, including giant sloths, short-nosed bears and saber-toothed cats in the past.
Fossil remains of bison latifrons in particular tend to show up more often in the area. The animal looked similar to the modern bison except that it was larger and had giant horns.
Thomson said that she hopes that some of the excavated mammoth's fossil, which was found in an irrigation drainage approximately 30 feet below the high water mark of the reservoir, could be displayed early next year.
"We're very lucky to have recovered them," said Roland Springer, manager of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation's Upper Snake Field Office. "Had they not been reported to Reclamation, the fossils may have been eroded and carried away into the reservoir."