The Huntington Mammoth

January 27, 2021


Photographer: Ray Boren
Summary Author: Ray Boren

Likely among the last of its nearly extinct species, somehow the elephantine creature seen reconstructed above had found refuge at an unusually high elevation, for a primarily plains-oriented grassland animal — about 9,600 feet (2,926 m) on central Utah’s Wasatch Plateau. And there, in a time of climate change at the end of Earth’s Pleistocene ice age — a devastating juncture for North America’s megafauna — the Huntington Mammoth, a grizzled bull perhaps 60 to 65 years old, died in a bog. Contributing to its death were old age, deforming arthritis and malnutrition, researchers say. The cold muck helped refrigerate and preserve the remains. About 10,500 years later (as determined by radiocarbon dating), in the summer of 1988, a bulldozer operator and crew working at the site of the Huntington Dam uncovered a massive humerus (a leg bone) and part of a tusk. More discoveries were to come.

Today this Columbian mammoth (Mammuthus columbi), a relative of modern elephants and a contemporary of the mastodon, is considered a morphological exemplar of its vanished species. During subsequent excavation and recovery, a remarkable 95 percent of its skeleton, including the skull and right down to little toe bones, was retrieved. Also found were cells preserving its DNA and examples of what the creature last ate, including grasses, sedges and twigs. The fragile bones are preserved and monitored in climate-controlled storage at the Utah State University Eastern Prehistoric Museum (originally part of the College of Eastern Utah) in Price.

IMAGE22Mounted life-size cast replicas of the well-preserved Huntington Mammoth’s skeleton, featuring the species’ upwardly curved tusks, awe visitors in Price and at other museums near and far, as illustrated in the first photograph here, taken on Nov. 2, 2017, inside the Fairview Museum of History and Art. The museum is in Utah’s Sanpete Valley, below the discovery location. The actual excavation site is just beyond and to the left of the trees shown in the inset photo, taken on July 19, 2014, below the Huntington Dam and its reservoir. Illustrated informational displays there describe the mammoth’s life, death, rediscovery and significance.

Photo Details: Top - Camera: NIKON D3200; Exposure Time: 0.013s (1/80); Aperture: ƒ/9.0; ISO equivalent: 400; Focal Length (35mm): 28. Inset - same except: Exposure Time: 0.0020s (1/500); Aperture: ƒ/11.0; ISO equivalent: 400; Focal Length (35mm): 27