It’s a mammoth discovery, no matter how you look at it.
An eastern Michigan farmer found the bones of a woolly mammoth in a soy field Monday night in Michigan. James, the farmer, says he and his neighbor Trent Satterthwaite, were on Bristle’s farm on Scio Church Road in Lima Township, working to drain water from part of the field.
“I think we just found a dinosaur or something,” Satterthwaite recalls joking with Bristle.
They then contacted the University of Michigan, which referred them to Professor Dan Fisher, who is the Director of the Museum of Paleontology. Thursday morning, he confirmed the remains were a woolly mammoth.
“I saw a part of a shoulder blade and there is a certain curve on a certain part of it that goes one way if it’s a mastodon and another way if it’s a mammoth,” said Fisher, “and I recognized that and said ‘Hmm, I think we have a mammoth here.’”
Bristle gave him access to the site for just one day, because of a tight farming schedule tied to the harvest. So on Thursday morning, a wild digging sprint ensued.
About 15 people from the university arrived, with several others showing up to observe. Satterthwaite and a local excavator, James Bollinger, lent their help with some heavy equipment. Together, they uncovered a surprising 20% or so of the woolly mammoth’s skeleton. There was the head and tusks, several ribs, a set of vertebrae, and more.
“We didn’t stop to eat or drink,” he added. “It was a hard, hard day of work, but every bit worth it.”
While there have been about 30 woolly mammoths found in Michigan, only five or fewer have been uncovered so extensively, Fisher said.
Fisher says there are only 10 similar sites in Michigan in recorded history where such a significant portion of a woolly mammoth skeleton was found. He says this one was probably killed by humans 10,000 or 15,000 years ago and then stored in a pond, which was a preservation technique at the time. Many of the missing parts were probably eaten by humans, Fisher said.
The mammoth, which was in its 40s or 50s when it died, might not technically be “woolly.” Instead, it could be a “Jeffersonian mammoth” — a hybrid between a woolly mammoth and Columbian mammoth, according to Fisher.
The bones are being temporarily stored nearby. It wasn’t clear late Thursday as where they will eventually end up. They need to be cleaned and dried, and then their research value will be more precisely assessed.
“It’s a pretty exciting day,” James Bollinger, an excavator and local resident who lent his services to the dig, told the Free Press Thursday. “I’ve been digging for 45 years and I’ve never dug anything up like that.”
Satterthwaite was just happy to play a part.
“You have a better chance of winning the lotto than doing what we just did,” he added.