Mammoth tusks and skull are raised from the excavation pit (Image credit: Daryl Marshke, Michigan Photography.)

Paleontologists from the University of Michigan have uncovered a thrilling find only 10 miles south of Ann Arbor near the town of Chelsea, Michigan. A partial skeleton of a 12,000 year old mammoth was discovered—including parts of its skull, tusks, pelvis, and shoulder blades—but that’s not all. Dig leader and University of Michigan professor of paleontology Daniel Fisher said that the site has “excellent evidence of human activity” preserved with the mammoth remains. 

In geological terms, mammoths were roaming the United States in the recent past, only disappearing about 12,000 years ago. Mammoth and mastodon fossils are found frequently in Michigan too, but Fisher says this is one of the more complete finds. Most importantly, multiple lines of evidence have been discovered indicating human involvement. Three large boulders were found next to the mammoth that were seemingly deliberately placed. These rocks could have been used as anchors to keep the mammoth carcass stored in a pond—a method of meat preservation Fisher says he has seen in other prehistoric civilizations throughout the world.

University of Michigan paleontologists, including dig leader Daniel Fisher, work to remove the mammoth tusks. (Image credit: Daryl Marshke, Michigan Photography)


A small stone that could potentially be a cutting tool was also found with the mammoth bones. To confirm that this animal was butchered by humans, researchers will examine the bones for cut marks that would indicate people were processing it for meat. A third piece of evidence is the organized way the neck vertebrae of the mammoth were found. “An animal doesn’t just come apart naturally leaving a sequence of tightly articulated vertebrae like that,” Fisher said, indicating that the animal would have had to have been moved by humans for paleontologists to find the bones laid out in such a fashion. 

This fossil was only discovered earlier this week by farmer and property owner James Bristle who called in Fisher when he realized what he had found: “We didn’t know what it was, but we knew it was certainly a lot bigger than a cow bone.” Additional study will help researchers learn more about the interaction between early humans and American megafauna during the end of the last Ice Age. It is unknown exactly when humans began inhabiting certain parts of the Americas, and when this mammoth is firmly dated and the human butchery is confirmed, this would change the known history of the earliest human inhabitants of Michigan.