Home Animals We’re Going To Need A Bigger Shovel: Mammoth Task For Gravediggers

We’re Going To Need A Bigger Shovel: Mammoth Task For Gravediggers


Excavation work on the skull of a 10,000-year-old mammoth that was found in Los Reyes de Juarez, Mexico is seen in progress. (Mexican National Institute of Anthropology and History/Zenger)

By Joseph Golder

Gravediggers preparing the ground for a new cemetery in Mexico were shocked to discover the 10,000-year-old remains of a mammoth.

The discovery took place in the municipality of Los Reyes de Juarez, in the southeastern Mexican state of Puebla, when the cemetery was being extended with new burial plots.

A nearly complete mammoth tusk has been found, along with a fragmented tusk and parts of the animal’s skull.

The Mexican National Institute of Anthropology and History (Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia; INAH) said in a statement that it was possible the animal had died while searching for water in a lake bed, which likely happened at least 10,000 years ago, in the Pleistocene era.

The expansion of a cemetery in Mexico led to the discovery of a mammoth, and the pelvis can be seen at the far right of the photo. (Mexican National Institute of Anthropology and History/Zenger)

The institute said the discovery took place in October when the municipal cemetery was being prepared for more burial plots. A worker’s digger ran into “what he believed to be a root, but when he pushed, dozens of fragments jumped out, which appeared to be bones of considerable size and weight.”

“Between the rows of tombs and the smell of chrysanthemums, an almost complete tusk was recovered” measuring 2.9 meters (9.5 feet), the institute said. The second tusk, which was broken by the backhoe, was also recovered, as were the mammoth’s “fragmented skull, 70 percent of the pelvis and some rib fragments.”

To avoid bone deterioration, the skull was “removed and immersed in a hardened sediment box and will be carefully cleaned in a laboratory for future analysis,” the institute said.

The 10,000-year-old mammoth’s remains, including skull and tusk, were found among chrysanthemums and graves. (Mexican National Institute of Anthropology and History/Zenger)

Biologist Ivan Alarcon Duran explained that after the bones have been cleaned they will be analyzed to confirm “basic data of the specimen” such as its age, gender and species.

Due to the size of the pieces, Duran believes it is a male, adult Columbian mammoth (Mammuthus columbi), which is believed to have been a hybrid species between the woolly mammoth and another type of mammoth whose ancestors were steppe mammoths.

Columbian mammoths are believed to have inhabited an area roughly corresponding to modern Mexico and the United States, while woolly mammoths lived further north in what is now Canada and Alaska. They likely went extinct about 11,500 years ago, at the end of the Pleistocene, due to habitat loss as a result of climate change and overhunting by humans.

The bone remains were transferred to the INAH Puebla Center’s laboratories, where they are being treated so they can be properly preserved and studied.

Edited by Richard Pretorius and Kristen Butler

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