“It’s a mammoth trap!” I exclaimed excitedly as our tour guide described the geology of the Mammoth Site in Hot Springs, South Dakota.
She was explaining how 20,000 years ago, the site we were currently standing one had been a limestone pit, with a hot spring flowing into it. The hot water from the spring eroded away the limestone making a large pool. The pool was so warm that fresh grass grew all around it and mammoths often sauntered over. If you were a mammoth, you probably would too, cold in the middle of the winter you would walk over to get a sip of the fresh water and eat the green grass. But, doing so, would have endangered your life. The limestone pit had steep edges and it was easy to fall in. Once you fell in, your feet did not have much grip and you would have no way to climb out. Trapped, at the bottom of a large pond. Perhaps now you can see why I called it a mammoth trap.
The first mammoth bone was discovered there by a crew that was digging to build foundations for a housing development. After the area was surveyed, it was quickly discovered that there was an abundance of mammoth bones. The housing development was stopped and scientific work began.
Scientific work was going on as we visited the site. For, unlike other museums that simply house fossils, this musuem was a living and working archaelogical site. With the size of the mammoth trap’s area known, the community stuck a building around the former pond and now allows visitors too see the dig process as it occurs. Rather than removing the bones from the site and displaying them, the bones are displayed in situ. This makes the entire thing far far more realistic. Seeing the bones still in the dirt, I could really picture that they were animals that were once alive. The magnitude of the gigantic beasts became much more real as well. And the scientific process of archaelogy, also much more clear. What a unique way to build a musuem!
Other interesting things we learned, there were actually two main types of mamoths, the typical Woolly mammoth and the Columbian mammoth. In the picture below, Kyle is standing next to the Columbian mammoth. A fully grown woolly mammoth could walk right underneath the head of a Columbian mammoth without even touching it. Now that is a big animal!
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