Saturday, August 28, 2010

South Dakota - The Mammoth Site

After a wonderful visit to the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary, we drove into Hot Springs and had lunch at a restaurant called Woolly's Mammoth Family Fun. Lynda had a bison-burger that she said was very good and much better than one she tried in Canada. If the name of this restaurant seems odd, consider that Hot Springs is home to the Mammoth Site and there are many businesses in town that capitalize on this attraction.

The Mammoth Site is the world's largest Columbian mammoth exhibit, and a world-renown research center for Pleistocene studies - visiting scientists have come from Mexico, Italy, Netherlands, Great Britain, Russia, and Germany.

In 1974, the area now known as the Mammoth Site was a soon-to-be housing development. During the early stages of preparing the land for construction, several artifacts were exposed. Fortunately for the world, the developer, Phil Anderson, stopped operations so the items could be examined. The artifacts turned out to be mammoth teeth, and then additional investigation led to the discovery of a complete skull and tusk. Donations, some made by local citizens, along with work performed by amateur and professional excavators, led to the site's status as a museum, and it was designated a National Natural Landmark in 1980.

Escavation and research has determined that a sinkhole formed 26,000 years ago which was then filled by a warm artesian spring. Numerous animals, including Columbia and Woolly mammoths, were attracted into the sinkhole by the warm water and pond vegetation, and then could not get out because of the steep sides and loose shale. Over the next 400-700 years, the sinkhole slowly filled with layers of dead animals, and drying silt and sediments; the mud which had aided in trapping the animals entombed and preserved their remains.

Eventually the sinkhole became completely filled. And then over thousands of years the hardened mud inside the sinkhole remained stable while the surrounding dirt and shale eroded, exposing the sinkhole as a hill. And it was upon this hill that excavation for a housing development was taking place in 1974.

The Mammoth Site is now fully enclosed in a climate controlled building, and the museum and dig site attracts visitors year round. The bones are displayed "in-situ" (as they were discovered)  in the now dry pond sediments. So far, 55 mammoths have been identified, along with the remains of a giant short-faced bear, camel, llama, prairie dog, wolf, fish, and numerous invertebrates. Fossils of several varieties of plant life have also been found.

We both enjoyed the Mammoth Site, although I found the young (9-11th grade) guides to be somewhat monotoned in their presentation. Nonetheless, it is definitely an interesting place to visit and you could spend several hours there, depending on your level of interest in such things.  We managed to get some pretty good photos...

And so we left Hot Springs and returned "home" to the TeePee Campground & RV Park. After being in Rapid City for a week, we're getting ready to leave tomorrow to continue our travels eastward. Lynda took care of some laundry while I cleaned the car to get rid of Badlands dust, lots of dog hair, and yucky nose smears on the windows!  We  put 900 miles on that rental car this week - it served us well.

Stay tuned!

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