Mammoth Discovery

POSTED: Tuesday, February 16, 2010 - 8:05am

UPDATED: Thursday, June 3, 2010 - 10:59pm

Construction crews working along I-5 near Ridgefield, Washington dug up a piece of prehistory, a tusk that likely dates back 10,000 to 15,000 years.

Washington State Department of Transportation project inspector Brad Clark was overseeing work on the new Ridgefield interchange when he spotted it.

"The auger came up with the soil on it and I noticed something different on it," recalled Clark.

Whatever was on that auger had come from 30 feet beneath the ground. Clark first thought it was a piece of wood, but after examining it closer he realized it had a familiar look.

"Very similar to a big horn sheep horn," said Clark. And there was something else that convinced Clark what they found deep in the earth was not just a piece of wood.

"It smelled like decaying almost or just rotting. It was never something I've smelled before," Clark recalled.

Clark collected all the fragments, called in an archeologist, and soon learned they were part of a tusk likely belonging to the ancient Columbia mammoth.

"I never would have imagined in my mind that I would have something like that in my hands," said Clark.

Scientists believe Columbia mammoths roamed the Pacific Northwest until about 10 thousand years ago. They estimate the tusk to be between 10,000 to 15,000 years old.

WSDOT crews monitored the rest of the construction dig but found no other evidence of the prehistoric mammal.

The tusk is now at the University of Washington, where scientists are carbon-dating it to find out exactly how old it is. But WSDOT crews hope one day the tusk is returned back to where it was found.

"It would be nice to have it back down in the southwest region to have in our office or at a museum of some sort ... so I could show my kids," said Clark.