Giant Ice Age Mammoth Cemeteries Found In The US

By Antonia Čirjak on February 1 2020 in Travel

Prehistoric ice age mammals in snow.

If any extinct prehistoric animals are ever brought back to life, it will be a Wooly Mammoth. A large part of the US was a sea at the time of dinosaurs, and this is why they can be found only in a few specific areas. But, by the Ice Age, the seas subsided, and the Ice Age animals walked the forests and planes of the continent very similar to modern America. Two prime sites where you can still see and even touch well-preserved Mammoth remains are the Bone Lick and the Mammoth Site. 

What Are Mammoths?

Mammoth can be compared to an African Elephant, with some significant differences: the ears were much smaller to adapt to the colder climate; they were also covered in a coarse dark brown coat up to 20 inches long with a shorter undercoat, and had an insulating fat layer under their skin. A male Wooly was roughly 9 to 11 feet tall in the shoulder and weighed around 6 tons, approximately the same as the modern African Elephant. Mammoths likely survived by eating Arctic plants. There is clear evidence that early North American hunters have hunted them. The age of each Mammoth can be discerned from the rings on his tusks the same way as we can tell the tree age from its trunk rings. 

Evidence suggests that some small populations of Wooly Mammoths survived in North America until between 10,500 and 7,600 years ago.

Mammoth Site: The Big Mammoth Trap

Mammoth Site is a dig in Black Hills of South Dakota. You can see mammoths up close! It is an active paleontological study site, and the primary location now enclosed in a large building! The Mammoth Site is a classic sinkhole of around 140,000 years old. The sinkhole preserved massive amounts of mammoths and other Ice Age animals and countless birds and insects. This “Mammoth Pit” is a spring pond inside a collapsed limestone cavern with steep walls. The pond is about 120 by 150 feet across and at least 65 feet deep.

A trio of woolly mammoths trudges over snow covered hills.
A trio of woolly mammoths trudges over snow covered hills. 

Animals would enter the pond but, due to the steep sides and unreliable edges, they would often get trapped and eventually die. Over hundreds of years, mud and sediment slowly filled the pit, burying and preserving the animals. You can pay a visit to the Site and the colocated museum. There is a fantastic scenic Needle Road and a Bear Sanctuary to visit in the area if you want to plan the entire day. 

Big Bone Lick: The Salty Giants

This excellent Ice Age museum and trails are located in Kentucky. Big Bone Lick gained its name for its natural salt and sulfur springs, which existed here for thousands of years. Animals of the Ice age used to come here to enjoy the salt. Some of them would get trapped and sink into the mud, which preserved their remains to this day. The animals found here include Mammoths, Mastodons, Giant Ground Sloths, and Giant Moose.  

Any kind of fossil collection or disturbance is prohibited here, except for occasional volunteering where you can assist with the digs. You can, however, enjoy a museum and 4.5 miles of trails across the salt lick and the creek where you can observe exposed fossils.

It can be disappointing that you can not collect fossils from the two main Mammoth places in the US, so here are a few places where you can: read up on collecting fossils in the US here. 

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