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Mammoth Discovered in Tri-Cities Will Be Used to Educate Children

Anna King
11/28/2008

You've heard of Kennewick Man, now there's Kennewick Mammoth. The skeleton was discovered recently in the Tri–Cities. Scientists say the massive animal likely was washed up on shore by one of the Great Missoula Floods. The bones could be as much as 19,000 years old. Richland Correspondent Anna King visited the dig site and brings us this story.

TRANSCRIPT

WHEN EIGHT YEAR OLD JONATHON BLAIR–PUCKETT AND HIS FRIENDS LEARNED THAT THEY WERE GOING TO HELP UNCOVER MAMMOTH BONES THEY COULD HARDLY CONTAIN THEIR EXCITEMENT.

PUCKETT: "Awesome! Yeah, cool. I just want to dig the whole place up."

OF COURSE, DIGGING UP ANCIENT MAMMOTH BONES IS NOT A FREE–FOR–ALL FOR EIGHT YEAR OLDS. FIRST THING IN THE MORNING ON THIS PARTICULAR SATURDAY, JAKE SHAPLEY LAYS DOWN THE GROUND RULES FOR THE TWO–DOZEN VOLUNTEERS.

SHAPLEY: "This is a really important and rare resource. So let's make sure we are safeguarding the location of this site. The last thing we want is someone showing up and digging up all these bones and taking them away."

SHAPELY IS A GRAD STUDENT AT CENTRAL WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY. HE'S HELPING TO DIRECT THE DIG ON THIS SITE. ANOTHER SCIENTIST FROM THE BURKE MUSEUM IN SEATTLE IS ALSO LENDING HIS EXPERTISE. WHAT'S DRAWING ALL THE ATTENTION IS THE SHEER SIZE OF THE FIND. EVERY YEAR NORTHWEST BEACH COMBERS AND FARMERS FIND MAMMOTH BONES. IN WASHINGTON ALONE, THERE ARE SOME 400 DIFFERENT MAMMOTH FINDS. BUT THIS MAMMOTH IS SPECIAL. IT'S AN ENTIRE SKELETON. IT'S IN GOOD CONDITION. AND THERE MIGHT BE AT LEAST TWO MORE COMPLETE MAMMOTH SKELETONS NEARBY ON THE SAME PROPERTY. THAT'S REALLY RARE.

VOLUNTEERS WERE BUSY SIFTING BUCKETFULS OF SOIL THOUGH A SCREEN. IT LOOKED A BIT LIKE PANNING FOR GOLD. AT THIS DIG SITE SO FAR, CREWS HAVE UNCOVERED SOME PIECES OF RIBS, A LEG BONE AND A SPINAL BONE. SHAPELY THINKS THIS SKELETON MIGHT HAVE WASHED UP ON SHORE AS A CARCASS AND THEN DECOMPOSED IN PLACE.

SHAPLEY: "These bones are different densities, different sizes and different densities. So if this was just a skeleton laying on the landscape that was picked up say somewhere between here and Idaho and washed down here. You wouldn't expect the small bones with very low density and the large bones with very high density to be found in the same place."

SHAPELY SPOKE TO ME AS HE SAT IN THE DIRT. HE WAS USING A SMALL PAINT BRUSH TO WHISK AWAY TALCUM POWDER–LIKE DUST FROM A BACK BONE HE WAS HOLDING. WHEN HE DOES WORK LIKE THIS, SHAPELY LOVES TO THINK ABOUT WHAT THIS MAMMOTH'S WORLD WAS LIKE.

SHAPELY: "They were large animals that were walking along this landscape up until about 10 to 12,000 years ago. They were all over the place. You would look out on this landscape and you would see not herds of cows you would see herds of mammoths. And not just mammoths but bison and camels and lions. We had a beaver the size of a Volkswagen Bug. We had all these critters on the landscape that are gone now. "

THE PROPERTY WHERE THE MAMMOTH WAS FOUND WAS BOUGHT LAST YEAR BY TWO MID–COLUMBIA FARMERS. THEY WANTED TO KEEP THE BONES AND THE PROPERTY IN LOCAL POSSESSION. SO THEY'VE STARTED A NON–PROFIT GROUP CALLED MCBONES, OR THE MID–COLUMBIA BASIN OLD NATURE EDUCATION SCIENCES. THEY HOPE THE SITE WILL BECOME A MAJOR DESTINATION FOR CHILDREN TO LEARN ABOUT CLIMATE CHANGE, MATH AND SCIENCE.

I'M ANNA KING IN KENNEWICK, WASHINGTON.

© Copyright 2008, NWPR

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