North Dakota Coal Mine Yields 100,000-Year-Old Mammoth Tusk

North Dakota Coal Mine Yields 100,000-Year-Old Mammoth Tusk

In the quiet hours of an overnight shift, a vigilant shovel operator at the Freedom Mine near Beulah, North Dakota, spotted a glint of white while moving a massive mound of dirt into a dump truck. This unexpected discovery marked the beginning of something extraordinary. As the truck driver unloaded the dirt, a dozer operator, intrigued by the glint, took a closer look and realized they had unearthed a 7-foot-long mammoth tusk, hidden for thousands of years.

David Straley, an executive of North American Coal, the mine’s owner, expressed their fortune at finding such a unique artifact. The tusk was discovered in an old streambed, approximately 40 feet deep, within the 45,000-acre surface mine that produces up to 16 million tons of lignite coal annually.

Promptly stopping excavation in the area, the mining crews called in experts, estimating the mammoth tusk to be between 10,000 to 100,000 years old. Paleontologist Jeff Person from the North Dakota Geologic Survey marveled at the tusk’s surprisingly good condition, considering the heavy machinery used during mining operations.

Further exploration at the site revealed more bones, constituting over 20 fragments, including a shoulder blade, ribs, a tooth, and parts of hips. Though not a complete skeleton, it’s one of the most comprehensive mammoth finds in North Dakota, adding significant value to the discovery.

Mammoths, once widespread across Africa, Asia, Europe, and North America, have left their traces throughout the United States and Canada. However, findings like this in North Dakota are relatively rare due to the destruction of remains by glaciations and ice sheet movements during the last Ice Age.

University of North Dakota vertebrate paleontologist Paul Ullmann highlighted the significance of this discovery, emphasizing that mammoths, often considered “media superstars almost as much as dinosaurs,” have captured human fascination for years.

The mammoth tusk, weighing over 50 pounds, is delicately handled, wrapped in plastic to control dehydration. This fragility necessitates careful preservation to prevent breakage. The mining company plans to donate these historical bones to the state for educational purposes, aiming to share the excitement with future generations.

North Dakota’s rich fossil record, including dinosaur fossils like Dakota, a mummified duckbilled dinosaur, is attributed to its landscape’s historical conditions. The state’s low-elevation, ecologically productive environments, combined with its geological features, have made it a haven for preserving the remains of ancient life for millions of years.

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