Part of a Columbian mammoth’s skull has been uncovered in southeastern Idaho. What’s more, experts say there are more bones lying in the dirt—perhaps an entire skeleton.
“There may be a whole mammoth there, so that is rare,” Mary Thompson, collections manager at the Idaho Museum of Natural History and an instructor at Idaho State University, told The Associated Press.
Evidence suggests that the mammoth was about 16 years old and lived about 70,000 to 120,000 years ago in what was a savannah-like area, inhabited by large plant-eaters and predators.
“This find is exciting because there are still teeth in the place in the jaw — so much can be learned from that,” she told the Idaho State Journal.
A fossil hunter working for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Capital Wired reports, first found the bones in early October near the American Falls Reservoir. Soon after, it was partially excavated by Idaho State University students and instructors.
“My crew is mainly students,” Thompson said. “These are things I can’t teach in the classroom or in the lab. It’s a very unusual opportunity.”
However, the team of researchers had to postpone their work on October 18 due to the reservoir’s water level rise, excavating at about 30 feet below the high-water mark. They plan to return once it drops in summer of 2015.
“It gives us a little more time to prepare if this is a complete mammoth, to get the funds together,” Thompson said. “This is going to be substantial to go out and excavate a complete mammoth.”
This isn’t the first time this particular site has housed fossil treasures. According to Thompson, fossils of various extinct species have been previously unearthed at the location over the years, ranging from saber-toothed cats, short-nosed bears that were larger than grizzlies, and giant sloths. One of the most often found fossils are from bison latifrons, similar to modern bison but bigger and with giant horns.
“It’s a very important North American Pleistocene site,” Thompson said, regarding a time period that runs from 1.8 million years ago to 10,000 years ago. “We have researchers from all over the world coming here to study the fossils from American Falls.”
Adding to the excitement of the find is Idaho Museum of Natural History ISU director Herb Maschner. “It’s exciting,” he told the state journal. “This will stay at the museum.