Michigan farmers James Bristle and Trent Satterthwaite's daily routine at the Bristle farm was interrupted when they found a discovery of a lifetime. The two farmers stumbled upon parts of a woolly mammoth skeleton.
The two farmers were hard at work at the drainage ditch, digging 8 feet into the ground. They accidentally uncovered what they first thought was a 'wooden' substance. Bristle and Satterthwaite thought it might be some kind of fossilized skeleton. They called the University of Michigan and asked for expert advice on what to do next. Daniel Fisher from the university's Museum of Paleontology came to help.
The farmers gave Fisher's team a day to dig. A team of paleontologists and excavation experts worked as fast as they could to unearth what turned out to be the skeletal remains of a mammoth. The team uncovered roughly 20 percent of a woolly mammoth's skeleton.
Fisher estimated that the mammoth was probably in its 40s at the time of its death and lived between 11,700 and 15,000 years ago. Fisher's team believes the ancient humans brought pieces of the mammoth's carcass to the site - a pond - for storage.
"It was their intent to come back later and retrieve this when they needed fresh meat," said Fisher. Storing meat in a pond was an ancient food preservation technique.
Fisher and his team were able to retrieve a remarkable showpiece consisting of the mammoth's skull and tusks. Parts of the vertebrae, pelvis and ribs were also uncovered. The researchers believe that the missing parts were probably eaten by the ancient humans.
Approximately 30 mammoth remains have been discovered in Michigan, five of which involved a complete set of skeletons. This discovery is a major feat for both farmers and researchers.
Along with the woolly rhino, saber-toothed tiger and giant armadillo, the woolly mammoth co-existed with ancient humans. Early scientists thought that the change in climate drove the massive mammals extinct. However, a recent study pointed to early human colonization as the source of extinction.
The retrieved partial skeleton will be examined closely by researchers at the university. Looking for human cuts on the bone will help determine when ancient humans first settled in the Americas.