Sunday, February 26, 2006

Mammoth Site

The Mammoth Site was one of my favorite stops during a trip to the Black Hills of South Dakota ten years back. Located just south of where we stayed in Custer, Hot Springs was once reknowned for its warm mineral springs. People journeyed here from around the world to partake in the therapeutic waters, and many of the old bath houses have been revitalized.

The mammoths were discovered in 1974 when a construction crew arrived to level a hill for a new housing developement and hit a giant bone. The site was once a sinkhole that, on the surface, appeared to be a spring-fed pond. Animals would venture down to the water for a drink, only to be trapped in the rich sediment (interesting note: most of the mammoths found are young adult males). Over hundreds of years the pond dried up, preserving the remains under silt and sediment. More than 50 Columbian and woolly mammoth have been found here, as well as a giant short-faced bear, rabbits, fish, assorted invertebrates and other small mammels.

The Mammoth Site is what they call in-situ, because you visit the actual dig site--and yes, they are still doing excavations here, which you can apply to participate in during July--and is the largest Columbian mammoth exhibit in the world. A building has been erected over the site to protect it from the elements, which also allows them to do on-site research year round. After the short tour you are allowed to stroll around the site (there are rails to keep people from walking across or damaging it), learn more about the Pleistocene era, and take photographs. There is also a connected museum and discovery center where various fossils and the replica of a mammoth bone shelter found in the Ukraine are on display.

The pictures look much better than they scanned, but obviously fail to do the site justice. For a better look and to read more about the site click here. This is one place I hope to revisit some day!


Jana said...

Way cool that you got to visit that. Must've been awesome! :)

Heather said...

It was extremely awesome, especially if you've read the Jean M. Aeul "Earth's Children" series or love mammoths. I admit it - my favorite character on "Sesame Stree" was Big Bird's friend, Mr. Snuffleupagus, who was a woolly mammoth without tusks.


They say to allow 1-2 hours for the tour, with good reason. For one, they were really busy the day we went so we had a half hour wait for the next tour (they go about every 15 minutes), which we spent poking about the gift shop/educational center -- this was before the attached museum was built -- and then after the guided part of the tour you are allowed to walk around reading the educational placards and looking at the bones from different angles...that sort of thing.

I could have easily spent more time there, but Jenni and Kim didn't seem as enamoured with it as I was and were eager to continue on with the rest of the day's plans -- from the Mammoth Site it's a quick drive up to Wind Cave National Park (we saw a distant herd of bison there) into Custer State Park where Mount Rushmore is located. You have to have a lot of stamina to travel with us, because we can go from dawn until dusk easily, and pack a lot into one day.

Lynn Daniels said...

Oh, how cool. My kids would love that place. Where exactly is it?

Thanks for the link -- I'm off to do a little research!

We drove through Wind Cave National Park last summer (before hitting Keystone and Mount Rushmore), and got caught in what would be the first of many bison traffic jams.

Heather said...

Lynn, the kids will love it! It's really easy to get to (there's a map on the Mammoth Site's website), and I remember there being a "sand box" inside where kids could learn how to sift for fossil fragments. And judging by your awesome trip pics from last summer, you'd probably come away with some great ones!

I envy you the bison sitings. We only saw them from a distance, just as we entered Wind Cave National Park. They were about a quarter mile off the road, across a wide open prairie. We only got one pic, in which they look like fuzzy specks, but that was before any of us had zoom cameras (which we quickly remedied!) and we weren't quite as crazy as others loping off across the field to shoot them. We did meet a pack of friendly burros who stopped traffic at Custer State Park, though, and also saw a magnificent elk.