April 24, 2012

A discovery of mammoth proportions

The Oskaloosa Herald

MAHASKA COUNTY — This prehistoric beast once roamed free in Mahaska County.

On Monday, several individuals from the University of Iowa and Iowa State University worked at a site in rural Mahaska County where an adult mammoth likely took its last steps.

Holmes Semken, professor emeritus of the University of Iowa’s Department of Geoscience, said it’s likely that there is a whole mammoth at the site. He noted that both the large and small bones of the animal appear to be at the same site, which is unusual for bones of this kind.

“We feel fairly comfortable that most of the mammoth is going to be down there,” said Semken, who worked for the University of Iowa from 1965 until retiring in 1999.

The gender and age of the mammoth are not known at this time. However, this and other information, including prehistoric plant life in the area, could be discovered in the future. Figuring out the animal’s cause of death is also one of the goals at the mammoth site, said Semken.

Semken said the mammoth most likely lived during the last of Earth’s ice ages. He said samples of the earth taken at the site will help date when the mammoth lived.

“This is a period of time when there are quite a number of large mammals roaming Iowa,” explained Semken.

Semken was joined at the site by former Mahaska County Conservation Board Naturalist Pete Eyheralde. David Brenzel, who worked on the Tarkio Valley Sloth Project in southwest Iowa, as well as current MCCB Naturalist Laura De Cook and several Iowa State students were also at the mammoth site Monday.

Art Bettis, Associate Professor of Geoscience, noted that taking samples of soil will help pinpoint the location of the mammoth itself. He said the mammoth site will also help researchers learn more about this part of Iowa during a particular prehistoric time period.

“At this point in the game, we know very, very little about the details of what it was like in this part of Iowa,” said Bettis. “So, this is going to be a very valuable site.”

Eyheralde, who is studying wildlife biology at the Ph.D. level at Iowa State, put out the call to Iowa State students to see who would be interested in learning from the mammoth site. He said several ecology, anthropology and evolutionary biology students responded and made it out to the research site.

“Everybody is interested in evolutionary biology and Iowa ecosystems,” said Eyheralde. “This project totally combines all of those.”

Eyheralde said he was still amazed to see a research site like this in Mahaska County, noting that he was excited to see what all they find.

“Who knows what else we’re standing on here,” said Eyheralde.

For more on the mammoth site, see the Tuesday, April 24, issue of the Herald.


Herald City Editor Andy Goodell can be reached at news2@oskyherald.com.