An in situ display of fossil mammoth bones is the centerpiece of Waco Mammoth Site, Texas. (photo by Don Esker) click to enlarge...
Waco Mammoth Site (Texas)
Thirty four years of excavation, preservation, investigation, and community investment have led the Waco Mammoth Site to a second opportunity at becoming a National Monument and gaining national recognition for the astounding find of more than 23 mammoths buried in the ground there. In late June 2012, the US House of Representatives approved a bill that would turn the site into a National Monument as part of a package of 14 other bills known as the Conservation and Economic Growth Act. The designation would come at no cost to taxpayers at the federal or state level, and would instead be funded from within the community, as it always has.
First discovered in 1978 by two local men in Central Texas in a dry creek bed near the banks of the Bosque River, Paul Barron and Eddie Bufkin were searching for arrowheads and fossils when they discovered a bone eroding from a ravine. Over the next twenty-three years, intensive excavations revealed at least 23 individuals, mostly mature female and juvenile mammoths.
The skeletons of the Waco mammoths were generally articulated in the positions the animals died in, and there was very little evidence of abrasion from transport. Other researchers examined the teeth of the mammoths for evidence of what they ate. Based on the chemical signatures preserved in the enamel of the teeth, the scientists were able to determine that the Waco mammoths all ate a very similar diet of grasses from hot climates. Paleontologists interpreted these facts as evidence of two or more mass deaths. The bulk of the animals represent a nursery herd of mothers and babies trapped by a flash flood and drowned, then rapidly buried by sediment 68,000 years ago.
The nation's first and only recorded discovery of a nursery herd of Pleistocene mammoths was found at Waco Mammoth Site, Texas. (photo by Don Esker) click to enlarge...
15,000 years later a bull mammoth, a cow, a calf, and an adult of unknown gender died in a similar event. Chemical analysis of the bull's teeth suggested the animal ate a diet that came from a wider range of grasses than the nursery herd. In between the two mammoth mass-mortality layers is a layer of indeterminate age that has produced the remains of a saber-tooth kitten and an unidentified medium-sized herbivore.
In 2006, plans were initiated to open the site for public viewing, based on a two-year study by the National Park Service to determine if the Waco site met the Service's criteria for significance, sustainability, and feasibility for inclusion, and those plans came to fruition in 2009 with the support of the Waco Mammoth Foundation. The City of Waco, Baylor University, and the Mayborn Museum are also important advocates for the site's designation. Additionally, legislation was introduced to the US House of Representatives in 2009 to designate the site as a National Monument. While that attempt did not pass the Senate, a new bill introduced in 2012 has again passed the US House of Representatives and is waiting on a vote from the Senate. The Waco Mammoth Site is a great example of modern processes helping us to understand—and preserve—what happened in the past.
Mammoth partner feature articles: Big Bone Lick State Park | Channel Islands NP, Pygmy Mammoth | Children's Discovery Museum of San Jose | Denver Museum of Nature & Science Snowmastodon Project | Fossil Discovery Center of Madera County | Kenosha Public Museums | The Mammoth Site at Hot Springs | Paleontological Research Institution, Museum of the Earth | The Tate Geological Museum at Casper College | Tule Springs Ice Age Park | Waco Mammoth Site