Western Trips

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Waco Mammoth National Monument

If your travels take you to or through Waco, Texas, the Waco Mammoth National Monument is a  unique travel stop and one you'll totally enjoy. The site was officially named a national monument in 2015 which also makes it a part of the National Park System.

waco mammoth national monumentWaco Mammoth National Monument is a paleontological site protecting the only nursery herd of Columbian mammoths in the U.S. Visitors enjoy tours and fossil viewing. The national park features fossils of female mammoths, a bull mammoth, and an ancient relative of camels, an antelope, alligator, giant tortoise, and more.

 The national monument is in 100 acres of wooded parkland along the Bosque River. The Columbian mammoth is now extinct. It lived during the Pleistocene Epoch, known as the Ice Age, and lived in North America from southern Canada to as far south as Costa Rica.

For a few decades, what stood at the site of this national monument was essentially a circus tent. What was of special interest however were the elephant fossils below. What was found were Columbian mammoths that were still preserved in their death position which occurred some 60,000 years ago after floodwaters left them buried in mud.

The Site's Discovery 

columbian mammoth fossils
The site was first discovered by accident in 1978, when two 19-year-olds looking for arrowheads along a dry riverbed found mammoth bones. Paleontologists at Baylor University were notified.  The bone was brought to Baylor University's Strecker Museum where it was identified as the femur of a Columbian mammoth, the larger distant relative of the wooly mammoth.

With this information, excavations were undertaken which led to surprisingly rich finds. Within a decade, sixteen Columbian mammoths were foundand lifted out of the ground using plaster jackets. A second excavation located six more mammoths, a camel and the tooth of a saber-tooth cat.

What killed these mammoths so long ago has not been solidly determined. There is no trace of human involvement and the bones do not appear to be disturbed by scavengers. One idea was that the mammoths were caught in some type of flash flood. Another is that they were trapped from rising water from the adjacent Bosque River. It's felt that subsequent floods buried the remains and also  trapped and killed the bull, juvenile and female mammoths. 
Visiting the Waco Mammoth National Monument

waco fossil photosWhat visitors will see today at the Waco Mammoth National Monument is a modern climate controlled dig shelter that could pass for an art gallery. The shelter has an abundance of natural light from all directions and a suspended walkway that provides a terrific overhead view of the mammoths. 

The national monument is managed in partnership by the National Park Service, the City of Waco, and Baylor University. According to the National Park Service, Tour guides will lead you from the Welcome Center, down a 300 yard paved path to the Dig Shelter where mammoth fossils are in situ (still in their original position within the bone bed). During your tour, you will learn about the Ice Age, how the fossils were discovered, and why this site is one of the most important paleontological finds in North America. The tour is educational and interesting and takes a relatively short time, perhaps 30-45 minutes.The Monument is easily accessible via personal vehicle, bus, or motor home.

For more information and a detailed map of the Monument's location see nps.gov/waco/planyourvisit/index.htm

For a list of all the mammoth sites in the U. S. see  nps.gov/waco/learn/mammoth_sites_in_usa.htm 

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(Photos copyright Western Trips)