The first person to see it was a night shift bulldozer operator who caught a glimpse of a white spot as he lifted a large load of dirt and threw it into a dump truck.
Later, after the truck was unloaded, a bulldozer driver was preparing to level the land, but when he too saw the white flash, he stopped and took a closer look.
It was then that the miners realized they had dug up something special: A 2.13-meter (7-foot) long mammoth tusk that has been underground for thousands of years.
“We were very lucky to find what we found,” said David Straley, an executive with North American Coal, which owns the mine.
At the Liberty Mine near Beulah, North Dakota, miners removed tusks from an ancient riverbed about 40 feet (12 meters) deep. The open-pit mine covers 28,210 hectares (45,000 acres) and produces up to 14.5 million tons of lignite per year.
After finding the tusks, the miners stopped digging in the area and called experts, who They estimate its age to be between 10,000 and 100,000 years old.
Jeff Person, a paleontologist with the North Dakota Geological Survey, was one of the first to participate.he expressed his surprise The tusks would not have suffered any more damage given the heavy machinery used on site.
“It’s a miracle that it’s basically intact,” Person said.
Subsequent excavations at the site uncovered more bones. Describing it as a “one-drop find,” which includes more than 20 bones, including shoulder blades, ribs, teeth and part of a hip, Person may be the most complete mammoth found in the state, where it is more commonly found only Fragments of bones, teeth, or mammoth tusks.
In the past, mammoths lived in Africa, Asia, Europe and North America. Specimens have been found in both the United States and Canada, explained vertebrate paleontologist Paul Ullman of the University of North Dakota.
Ullman said the discovery is quite rare for North Dakota and the region because many of the remains of animals that lived during the last ice age were destroyed by glaciers and ice sheet movements.
More mammoth remains have been found in areas such as Texas and South Dakota. Frozen bodies have even been found in the permafrost of Canada and Siberia.
mammoth They became extinct about 10,000 years ago in what is now North Dakota, according to the Geological Survey. They were larger than modern elephants and covered in thick fur. There are cave paintings here dating back 13,000 years.
Ivory weighs more than 22 kilograms (50 pounds) and is considered fragile. Paleontologists wrapped it in plastic to try to control how quickly it dehydrated. If it happens too quickly, the bones can break and be destroyed, Person explained.
The tusks and other bones were stored wrapped in plastic and will remain that way for at least several months while scientists determine how to safely remove the moisture. Person said paleontologists will later determine the species of mammoth.
The mining company plans to donate the bones to the state for educational purposes.
“Our goal is to give it to the kids”Straley said.
(Information from the Associated Press)