Mammoth Discovery

Wednesday, March 30, 2011 - 8:45am

Farmers unearth ancient skeleton in California artichoke field.

There’s a lot more than artichokes lying in Castroville, California’s soil.

An excavation team is working on a Castroville farm field where they discovered bones from an adult and juvenile Ice Age Columbian mammoth.

On Monday the site was opened for the first time to the media.

In December farmers Ryan Jefferson and Martin Jefferson were leveling a field for better drainage when they turned up something strange.

“We dug it up and saw weird formations on rock,” Ryan Jefferson said. “It was pink and white with blue veins through it.”

The two farmers put their discovery in the hands of experts, who realized the “weird rock” was actually a Columbian mammoth tusk and molar.

Excavators named the mammoths Stella and Addie.

“These animals were here when humans arrived in North America during the Ice Age,” Project Director Mark Hylkema said.

Columbian mammoths have been found in California before.

One was found in Fremont in the 1960s, and most recently in San Jose in 2005.

This is the first mammoth found in Monterey County.

There may be an even more exciting discovery from the Castroville site: Columbian mammoth hair that could contain DNA.

“This isn't just digging up a mammoth, it's also looking for what information we can get. Can we get DNA?” King said. “If we can get DNA out of hair follicle, it means we can do genetic comparisons, mammoths and elephants.”

This would be the first DNA recovery from the species.

The excavation team, which has been at the site for a month, has uncovered 10 percent of the mammoths’ bones.

“We’re dealing with dozens of little fragments for each bone, broken into pieces,” said Project Coordinator Timothy King. “It’s going to take a long time.”

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