Wooly Mammoth Tusk Unearthed During Roadwork in Oregon

by Josh Lanier
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A road crew in Oregon uncovered a mammoth discovery recently while working beneath a road. The crew was moving a gas line when they found a 10,000-year-old tusk that belonged to a wooly mammoth. And this isn’t the first time a road crew in that area has unearthed such a find.

“Whenever doing this type of work, our crews are very careful to keep an eye out for any type of materials they may find while working that could be fragile or historic,” a spokeswoman for NW Natural, the gas company doing the work, told the Corvallis Gazette-Times. “As is our protocol, we stopped work immediately.”

The tusk was found about six feet below the surface. “The tusk extends into the trench wall and there could be more (pieces) in there,” the project manager told the newspaper.

The company contacted Oregon State University anthropologist Loren Davis, who directs a research group that studies the Pleistocene era, more than 12,000 years ago when the animals existed.

Early humans were incredibly dependent on the wooly mammoth, Davis said. They hunted the massive beasts for food and used their hides as clothing and shelter. But they also turned their tusks and bones into tools and art. The ancient elephant ancestors could grow to be 11 feet tall and weigh six tons.

It’s unclear, however, what happened to the mammoths, Davis said.

“It’s a bit of a mystery,” said Davis about the mammoth’s disappearance. “The world was changing structure to a post-glacial one. People also were present. There might have been environmental factors as well as hunting pressure. It could be lots of things.”

Archeologists are working to secure and remove the bone.

“We’re in a pretty early stage of the decision,” the project manager said. “OSU was really good about working with us. They came out right away and we really appreciated that.”

Mammoth Finds Aren’t That Uncommon

This is the second time in five years that construction crews have uncovered the skeletal remains of a woolly mammoth.

In 2016, crews dug up an intact upper leg bone while working on Reser Stadium expansion at Oregon State University.

Davis said the two finds have a lot in common.

“It is very similar to the Reser find,” Davis said. “The area has the same type of clay deposits as at Reser.”

But these types of finds aren’t especially rare for that area, Davis said. In the past 20 years, there have been mammoth discoveries in the Kings Valley area of Benton County, two in Woodburn, one in Hillsboro, and also a mastodon, a somewhat close relative to the mammoth, in Tualatin, the Corvallis Gazette-Times said.

Davis said he also often gets calls from farmers and people digging in their yards about finding large animal bones. Though, that doesn’t undercut the importance or significance of the discoveries.

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