Coal miners working at the Freedom Mine near Beulah, ND, during the Memorial Day 2023 weekend stumbled on a 7-foot, 50-pound well-preserved tusk belonging to a mammoth that lived about 10,000 years ago, according to the state.
In addition to the tusk, more than 20 mammoth bones, including ribs, a shoulder blade, a tooth, and parts of the hips, were recovered during a 12-day dig, according to a press release from the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources.
“Most of the mammoth fossils known from North Dakota are isolated bones and teeth,” Clint Boyd, a senior paleontologist for the North Dakota Geological Survey, said in the release. “This specimen is one of the most complete mammoth skeletons discovered in North Dakota, making it an exciting and scientifically important discovery."
After the bones were stabilized in protective jackets, they were sent to the paleontology lab at the North Dakota Heritage Center & State Museum in Bismarck, where they will be cleaned and secured. While that work continues, the North Dakota Geological Survey and the Freedom Mine staff will develop a plan to integrate the fossils into an educational outreach program and determine where they will be on public display.
Mammoths lived in North Dakota during the Ice Age until they went extinct due to warmer temperatures and human hunting. In North America, there were several species of mammoth, including the woolly mammoth and the Columbian mammoth. Once the bones are fully cleaned, paleontologists will be able to identify the species that was collected in North Dakota, according to the release.
Mammoths are close cousins to modern-day elephants but not direct descendants. Overall, mammoths were believed to be not only larger than elephants but had longer, more curved tusks.