Waco Mammoth Site

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Columbian mammoth remains at the Waco Mammoth Site.

The Waco Mammoth Site is an paleontological site and museum in Waco, Texas, United States where paleontologists uncovered fossils of twenty-four Columbian mammoths (Mammuthus columbi) and other mammals from the Pleistocene Epoch. The site is the largest known concentration of a single herd of mammoths dying from the same event, which is believed to have been a flash flood.


Columbian mammoths lived 10,000 to 1 million years ago. They migrated to North America and as far south as Nicaragua. The Columbian mammoth was a herbivore, with a diet consisting of varied plant life ranging from grasses to conifers.[1] At this time, the Central Texas landscape consisted of temperate grasslands and savannahs surrounded by river floodplains.[2]

The site was discovered in 1978 by Paul Barron and Eddie Bufkin, who were searching for arrowheads and fossils near the Bosque River. The men found a large bone and took the bone to the Strecker Museum at Baylor University for analysis. Once identified as a Columbian mammoth bone, the museum staff organized a formal dig at the site. Between 1978 and 1990, sixteen mammoths were discovered. These first remains were protected with plaster jackets and stored at the Strecker Museum (now the Mayborn Museum Complex). The other remains were excavated between 1990 and 1997. These remains include a large male (bull), a female, two juveniles and a camel (Camelops hesternus) and are in situ at the site.[3]

Though the first bones at the site were discovered in 1978, the site remained closed to the public until the end of 2009. That year, a shelter was completed to protect the bones and allow the site to be viewed by the general public. The site, now run by the City of Waco, sits in a 100-plus acre stretch of wooded parkland along the Bosque River.[3]

How the animals at the site died is a mystery, but there is no evidence that humans were involved. The current theory is that approximately 68,000 years ago, at least 19 mammoths from a nursery herd were trapped in a steep-sided channel during a flash flood and drowned. A camel was also trapped and killed during this event. Later floods buried the remains. A second event took place sometime later. During this event, an unidentified animal associated with a juvenile saber-toothed cat (genus Smilodon) died and was buried. The third event claimed the lives of a bull mammoth, two juvenile mammoths, and an adult female. Approximately 15,000 years after the nursery herd was trapped, these animals also appear to have been victims of rising water, unable to escape due to the slippery slopes of the surrounding channel.[3]

Optical dating of the fossils was done by optically stimulated luminescence (OSL). OSL uses light to excite electrons and cause the emission of photons. The photons can be sensed and measured to calculate when the test sample was last exposed to the sun. The soil near the mammoths remains was examined using OSL to determine how long the minerals were buried. As the soil was buried at the same time as the mammoths, determining when the soil was last exposed to the sun would correlate to the time when the mammoths perished.[4]

Congressional legislation was introduced in 2010 and 2012 to create the Waco Mammoth National Monument and to include the site as a unit of the National Park Service.[5] The bill passed the House of Representatives but died in the Senate both times.[6]


  1. ^ "About Mammoths". University of California Museum of Paleontology. Retrieved 24 August 2013. 
  2. ^ "The Ice Age (Pleistocene Epoch)". Gulf of Mexico Program. United States Environmental Protection Agency. Retrieved 24 August 2013. 
  3. ^ a b c "Discover the Waco Mammoth Site". Waco Mammoth Site. City of Waco. Retrieved 24 August 2013. 
  4. ^ Brown, Jeff. "A Mammoth Undertaking". Baylor Magazine. Baylor University. Retrieved 24 August 2013. 
  5. ^ Waco Mammoth Site Special Resource Study, National Park Service, Accessed Aug. 22, 1913.
  6. ^ Brown, Lowell. "Waco Mammoth Site bill again goes to Senate". Waco Tribune-Herald. Retrieved 24 August 2013. 

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Coordinates: 31°36′22″N 97°10′30″W / 31.606°N 97.175°W / 31.606; -97.175