Walk Among Fossils at the Mammoth Site of Hot Springs, South Dakota - WanderWisdom - Travel
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Walk Among Fossils at the Mammoth Site of Hot Springs, South Dakota

FlourishAnyway welcomes the opportunity to travel both stateside and abroad and especially enjoys documenting her fun through photography.

Don't Miss the Wooly Mammoths of South Dakota

The Mammoth Site is an active paleontological dig site, meaning you can watch scientists dig for the mammoth fossils that are partially exposed in the earth. There are also assembled mammoth skeletons. The project is housed in a large building.

The Mammoth Site is an active paleontological dig site, meaning you can watch scientists dig for the mammoth fossils that are partially exposed in the earth. There are also assembled mammoth skeletons. The project is housed in a large building.

Fossil Finds: Mammoth Adventures Await in South Dakota

Vacationing in South Dakota? Well, if you leave without visiting the Mammoth Site in Hot Springs, you might as well turn around and head right back. The Mammoth Site is a world-class museum that displays Columbian and wooly mammoth bones "in situ" — that is, as they were originally positioned in the sinkhole when the animals met their fates 26,000 years ago. The museum is both educational and mesmerizing.

In the hour or two that it takes to tour the site, watch paleontologists and citizen volunteers at work as they patiently unearth fossils. Just feet away, researchers work with brushes and chisels to carefully coax bones from their dusty graves.

Follow a tour guide around the winding walkways and view fossils close-up. Take photos, ask questions, and imagine what it was like as these animals struggled for their lives and eventually became trapped in this once-thriving watering hole thousands of years ago.

Wooly Bully No More

Wooly mammoths once roamed North America along with their larger, less hairy cousins, the Columbian mammoths

Wooly mammoths once roamed North America along with their larger, less hairy cousins, the Columbian mammoths

An Unusual Find

Mammoth bones are one of those needle-in-a-haystack finds. They were discovered in Hot Springs, South Dakota, by a construction worker in 1974 while preparing land for a new housing development. The man unearthed odd-looking bones that later turned out to include a mammoth tooth.

After additional digging revealed a complete mammoth skull and tusk, local citizens rallied to form The Mammoth Site, now a 501(c)(3) organization. Rather than exploiting the unusual find for personal gain, the landowner graciously left the mammoth remains in place and sold the land to the non-profit organization at cost. Today, the in situ site is 35-67 feet deep, and has yielded 61 mammoths to date.

During their average lifespan, mammoths replaced their molars six times.  Over time, their molars grew larger and had more ridges.

During their average lifespan, mammoths replaced their molars six times. Over time, their molars grew larger and had more ridges.

A Museum and Working Dig Site

A building now encapsulates the active dig site so that paleontological research can take place year-round. Scientists from around the world visit the site each July to participate in research, and citizens can even volunteer to take part in field research at the site through the EarthWatch Institute.

Visitors to the Mammoth Site museum gain a unique understanding about mammoths, paleontology and our changing world. I especially liked that the museum provoked thought and conversation by presenting multiple competing scientific arguments (see table below).

This bone shelter is an example of how early humans used mammoths for survival.

This bone shelter is an example of how early humans used mammoths for survival.

Some Of the Museum's Displays Include

competing perspectives about what caused the mammoths' extinction

fossilized teeth, bones, and replica skeletons

films and visuals about preserved Ice Age mammoths

thought provoking questions about whether scientists ethically should clone the mammoth (since it's an ever-increasing technological possibility)

interactive programs/activities for children

information on how humans depended on mammoths for survival.

Titans of the Ice Age: No Match for This Deathly Sink Hole

One hundred twenty-two tusks belonging to 61 individual Columbian and wooly mammoths have been identified at the site. Additionly, there are remains of a giant short-faced bear, camel, llama, prairie dog and other fossilized creatures. Scientists believe these animals met their deaths over a period of about 1,000 years, starting about 26,000 years ago when they fell into a watering hole 65 feet deep.

The unsuspecting animals were enticed by the spring-fed pond with its warm water and vegetation. Mammoths and other animals climbed into the steep pit. Once inside, however, they became trapped when they couldn't find a foothold to climb out. Ultimately, they drowned, starved, or died of exhaustion. Imagine their panic.

Over the years, their bones became entombed in mud, fossilizing and becoming part of the earth around them. Sediment as well as the bodies of other animals accumulated in this natural death pit. Even these great beasts, the titans of the Ice Age, posed no match for this sink hole of death.

The Mammoth Site: Window to the Past

Don't miss the opportunity to step back into time and view mammoths in their final resting place.  The Mammoth Site will intrigue, teach, and make you think.

Don't miss the opportunity to step back into time and view mammoths in their final resting place. The Mammoth Site will intrigue, teach, and make you think.

Comparing Woolly Mammoths and Columbian Mammoths

 Wooly MammothColumbian Mammoth

Height

approximately the same size as modern African elephants (males 9-11 ft at shoulder, females 8.5-9.5 ft)

13 ft at the shoulder

Weight

6 tons (males)

10 tons (males)

Fur

covered in an overcoat of long guard hairs up to 3 ft long with a thick undercoat of fur

unknown distribution and density of fur but probably less than wooly mammoth because of its generally warmer habitat

Tusks

male tusks averaged of 8-9 ft length; long tusks that grew spirally from the base and curved around until the tips either pointed towards one another or crossed

male tusks averaged 14 ft; tusks were less twisted, asymmetrical, and spiral in opposite directions

Average Lifespan

60 years

80 years

Diet

plant food, primarily grass, sedges, shrubs, mosses, flowering plants

woody plants, grass and sedge; similar to wooly mammoth

Habitat

tundra steppe, from northern Asia, north east Europe into northern North America

southern half of North America, from the northern United States, through Mexico to Costa Rica

Columbian and wooly mammoths are distant relatives of today's elephants. The gender of the animal can be revealed by its pelvis, and the teeth generally reveal the animal's species, diet, and age (within two years).

All 61 animals found in the Mammoth Site were young males. Like elephants, mammoths were matriarchal societies and young males were cast outs from the family group who often engaged in greater risk taking behavior.

Three of the 61 are wooly mammoths, with the rest being Columbian mammoths. It isn't known whether the species co-existed or whether one species came along after the other species had vacated the area.

If you're in South Dakota, don't miss the opportunity to step back into time and take a glimpse at the final resting spot of these grand titans of the Ice Age. This world class paleontological dig site and museum is a rare treat which will intrigue, teach, and make you think.

The Mammoth Site is open year round with the exception of Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, New Year's Day, and Easter  Sunday.  Guided tours are 30 minutes long.

The Mammoth Site is open year round with the exception of Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, New Year's Day, and Easter Sunday. Guided tours are 30 minutes long.

Reader Poll

Just A Short Drive From Other Great Places

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2015 FlourishAnyway

Comments

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on May 11, 2020:

Peggy - It's a neat place to visit, and there are other places around that are also worthy of a visit that have grown up since that time!

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on May 10, 2020:

That site had not yet been discovered when my family and I vacationed in South Dakota back in the late 1950s. It looks fascinating! Thanks for this look at what is there.

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on January 07, 2017:

Frances Metcalfe - It's a fascinating site if you ever get the chance to visit. Thank you for reading and commenting.

Frances Metcalfe from The Limousin, France on January 07, 2017:

very interesting article, complementing one I read the other day on dinosaurs. These fossils aren't from that long ago interms of geologica time - a real window into the not-so-distant past.

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on August 08, 2016:

Norma - Thank you for reading. It was an exciting, unexpected place that I would highly recommend!

Norma Lawrence from California on August 08, 2016:

Great article. Sounds like a fabulous place to visit. Thanks

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on July 25, 2016:

Alun- You would be the perfect candidate for the volunteer excavation program in the summer to work alongside the experts. I saw many of them in action, and if you enjoy fossils this is your kind of place. The funny thing was that from the outside of the building, I didn't know what to expect. Inside, however, was amazing, a real gem.

Greensleeves Hubs from Essex, UK on July 25, 2016:

This sounds like a place I would really love to visit Flourish. As you know I have an interest in prehistoric animals, and any museum would be of interest to me. But there seem to be so many different elements to this museum, and to incorporate a genuine fossil excavation site must be fairly unique.

I'm particularly interested to hear that both woolly mammoths and Columbian mammoths lived here at the same time, geologically speaking. Given that they seem to have had similar diets (unlike mastodons) I wonder how they would have interacted? Or if, as you suggest, they kept their distance from each other, and occupied the site at different times, or possibly in different seasons?

As for your poll I voted 'yes' to the resurrection of the mammoth. The reason is two-fold. Firstly, given that mankind may have played a role in its demise, it may not have been, in a sense, a natural extinction. Secondly, of course one always has concerns about the introduction of a new species into an environment, but this isn't an insect or a small mammal like a rat which may get out of control and be unmanageable. An animal as large as a mammoth could easily be constrained in reserves, just as elephants are in Africa today. Anyway, my judgement is coloured - I would just LOVE to see a real life woolly mammoth! :)

A well laid out, attractive and informative hub. Alun

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on March 31, 2016:

JanTUB - Thank you for reading! It was a great place to visit. Hope you can see it one day, too.

Jan T Urquhart Baillie from Australia on March 31, 2016:

So that's how they got there! Fascinating place to visit. Thanks for showing us.

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on March 07, 2016:

breathing - It was indeed awe-inspiring to be in the company of such bones. I hope one day you might be able to visit and see for yourself!

TANJIM ARAFAT SAJIB from Bangladesh on March 07, 2016:

So many mammoth bones in just one single place!!! That’s really something exciting and terrible! I really wish I could go there! These kinds of places will take you to the ancient times and you will have a frightening feeling at times thinking so many mammoths are surrounding you!! Also you can learn many differently kinds of information visit such places which is in itself a great asset. Those who do experiment with fossils must visit this place so that they can gather a great deal of information. Overall I can say that if anyone visits South Dakota, don’t miss this place!!

Ann Carr from SW England on February 13, 2016:

Thanks, you too!

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on February 13, 2016:

Ann - Thank you so much for the information and kind words. Have a wonderful weekend! Happy Valentine's Day!

Ann Carr from SW England on February 13, 2016:

Fascinating! I love hubs like this because it's so amazing how they find and preserve all these bones and piece together a picture of the creatures.

The other day I watched a David Attenborough documentary about the Titanosaurus which was found recently - so huge it dwarfs all the rest!

I presume that's you with the mammoth in the background? Great photo and super illustrations!

Ann

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on January 22, 2016:

Carolyn - Glad you enjoyed this. It was a really neat place, although I sure wouldn't want to be there right now (January). Brrrrr. Stay warm wherever you are! Thanks for reading and commenting!

Carolyn Emerick on January 21, 2016:

What a fantastic place to visit! I really miss the upvote button, because I read a hub like this and just want to thumbs up it! Thanks for sharing your fun and educational trip with us!

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on January 11, 2016:

Rajan - Glad you enjoyed this. It is surely a fantastic visit, and I hope one day you can visit, my friend.

Rajan Singh Jolly from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar, INDIA. on January 10, 2016:

Very interesting read about something I was not aware of. I'm in awe at the masterly excavation & preservation. Surely a place I'd to see if possible.

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on January 06, 2016:

Amanda - Hope you get the chance to visit one day and perhaps even participate in the dig. It's a pretty cool place and so is South Dakota!

Amanda Littlejohn on January 06, 2016:

Wow! What a fantastic hub. I always loved woolly mammoths (or the idea of them at any rate) when I was a kid. I totally would have loved this park. Thanks for sharing. :)

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on January 02, 2016:

aesta1 - South Dakota was very different from my neck of the woods and had a number of interesting sites. I hope you are able to visit. Thanks for reading. Happy 2016.

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on January 02, 2016:

Another place to add to our travel list. I am not too familiar with mammoth so this is new learning for me. Besides, I haven't been to Dakota yet.

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on December 14, 2015:

Heidi - Glad you enjoyed this. I love the idea of participating in one of these digs, too. It's cool that regular people can sign up and participate. Merry Christmas! Thanks for stopping by!

Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on December 13, 2015:

Hi there! Catching up with my HP buds today and realized I had missed this post from you.

Interesting to see that mammoths were a "feminist" culture. :) Love the pictures. And I would so love to participate in one of those digs someday (or an archaeological dig).

Hope all is good with you and that you're enjoying the holiday season so far!

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on December 13, 2015:

Sheila - Thank you. I enjoyed the stop. It was well worth the trip, especially to see the scientists in action.

Sheila Brown from Southern Oklahoma on December 11, 2015:

This was very interesting! This is a place I would love to visit! Your pictures are just awesome! :)

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on November 26, 2015:

Poetryman6969 - I agree with you. Whatever happened to them to make them extinct we shuld just learn from their remains .

poetryman6969 on November 26, 2015:

Wow, sounds like some huge animals!

I am still hoping nobody actually does that Jurassic Park stuff.

At least no one in the US. If that dictator in North Korea wants to make stuff that can wreak havoc upon his own nation we should probably just grab the popcorn.

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on November 15, 2015:

Audrey - yes, it's quite unusual. I just wonder after he does it what then? A whole herd of them? I hope he thinks the whole thing through.

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on November 15, 2015:

Jackie - if you have the time you can look into a week or mor stint volunteering carefully digging up bones there. Cool huh? Thanks for reading and have a good weekend.

Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on November 13, 2015:

I should have gotten into the study of these things; it interests me so much! This is a very informative and fun read!

Audrey Howitt from California on November 12, 2015:

I was reading the other day that a Russian scientist is trying to resurrect the woolly mamoth ---this looks like great fun!

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on November 04, 2015:

Nell - Happy you enjoyed it so much! You'll have to visit one day!

Nell Rose from England on November 04, 2015:

Wow! I would love to visit here, I have always been interesting in paleontology and especially seeing all those mammoth bones, how fascinating! great hub and really interesting!

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on November 04, 2015:

agusfanani - Thank you for reading. They were such awe-inspiring creatures. I'm glad you enjoyed this. Have a lovely week.

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on November 04, 2015:

Randy - I'm glad you liked it. I don't understand either why the voting options were taken away. I liked them myself as a way to further endorse a hub. Have a wonderful week!

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on November 04, 2015:

moonlake - Thanks for reading and sharing. Hope you can one day go and enjoy it for yourself. There's also a wild horse sanctuary that's beautiful.

agusfanani from Indonesia on November 03, 2015:

I get interesting information about mammoth after reading your hub that I have never known before. It is like my favorite destination for me to visit too. We also have museum with mammoth skeleton but located far from my city.

Randy Godwin from Southern Georgia on November 03, 2015:

Very well researched and written. A fascinating subject as well. Too bad HP has done away with the voting options. :(

moonlake from America on November 03, 2015:

Enjoyed your hub. I would someday like to go there. Very interesting. Shared.

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on November 03, 2015:

Frank - It was pretty special to be among such huge creatures, even if it was their bones from so many years back. Makes you feel small in significance.

Frank Atanacio from Shelton on November 03, 2015:

Flourish this is a great hub covering an amazing place.. it's a shame animals like this are just fossils.. yeah I would love to see scientists work their magic on DNA ... what a wonderful place to visit :)

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on November 03, 2015:

Carolyn - I appreciate the compliment and the share. Have a great week!

Carolyn Emerick on November 02, 2015:

Thank you so much for this in depth info! Sharing in a biology group on FB :-)

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on November 02, 2015:

Sha - Those are my sentiments exactly. Just because we can do something doesn't mean we should. I do hope you're able to visit one day. It's quite a different world up there.

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on November 02, 2015:

Flourish, this is awesome. I had no idea so much of our ancient history lies in South Dakota. What an amazing experience it would be to visit this dig site. It's quite sad that sink holes contributed to the mammoths' demise.

I don't think we should revive the species. I don't think Man should mess with Mother Nature and the natural process. Besides, today's climate and building of human habitats over what was once free-ranging land is probably not at all conducive to their survival. Shoot, today's species are losing a foothold on life for those very reasons!

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on November 02, 2015:

Linda - South Dakota has some neat spots like this one. I am so glad that I went to the Mammoth Site and wished that I could have spent more time in the area exploring. I hope you're able to visit the state one day.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on November 01, 2015:

Thanks for such an informative and interesting hub, Flourish. The photos are great! I'd love to visit the Mammoth Site myself. I think that mammoths are fascinating animals.

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on November 01, 2015:

Devika - Thank you for such a lovely comment. Have a wonderful week.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on November 01, 2015:

Sounds an awesome site! So nicely explored and written of from your intelligent mind.

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on November 01, 2015:

Larry - Glad you were able to visit this paleo dig spot and liked it. Thanks for reading!

Larry Rankin from Oklahoma on November 01, 2015:

Iactually Had went to this archeological site several years ago. It was an awesome experience.

Great read, as always.

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on November 01, 2015:

Genna - I cannot imagine being trapped in that sink hole and wonder how long it took for an animal that large to starve to death. Terrible. Thank you for reading and commenting. Have a wonderful week ahead.

Genna East from Massachusetts, USA on November 01, 2015:

It's hard to imagine that these magnificent creatures (and others) once roamed North America. Those sink holes of death must have been terrifying for them. Fascinating article...thank you.

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on November 01, 2015:

Patricia - Although the fossils were discovered in 1974, the museum itself that is open to the public is a rather new addition. It is worth the trip. Angels back at you!

Patricia Scott from North Central Florida on November 01, 2015:

O love South Dakota...lived in Rapid and on Ellsworth AFB in the late 70's and 80's...did not visit this site but when I get back I will. We spent most of our time in the Black Hills, Rushmore, Lead and Deadwood and out in the wild motorcycling...

This brought it all back..thanks so much for the walk down memory lane...

Angels are on the way to you this morning ps

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FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on November 01, 2015:

stricklydating = Thanks for reading. Glad you enjoyed it!

StrictlyQuotes from Australia on November 01, 2015:

Wow! Sure sounds amazing!

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on November 01, 2015:

Blossom - Thanks for reading and for your kind comment. It was such a different kind of place and very unexpected. I enjoyed it very much. Have a lovely week ahead!

Bronwen Scott-Branagan from Victoria, Australia on November 01, 2015:

Such an interesting hub. It would be great to actually be there and see the site.

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on October 31, 2015:

Deeda - THANKS!

DEEDA on October 31, 2015:

Great hub Flourish!

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on October 31, 2015:

MsDora - Thanks for taking a look at this travel hub. It was an awesome trip that I would highly recommend to anyone going to the area.

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on October 31, 2015:

CarbDiva - I was by myself and had a few hours to kill while my daughter was in a STEM camp in Rapid a City at the SD School ofines and Technology. I didn't know much about it and I'm so glad I made the trip. Very educational and unlike anywhere I've ever been.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on October 31, 2015:

What a rich site this is with historical scientific finds! Thanks for the information and the pictures. Super interesting!

Linda Lum from Washington State, USA on October 31, 2015:

What a great hub! I had absolutely no idea that the Hot Springs in SD was such a large site and that there is so much to it. I will definitely have to put this on my bucket list.

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on October 31, 2015:

Reynold - What a neat background you have! A fascinating guy!

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on October 31, 2015:

Bill - Luckily, it was very temperate during my stay (high 80s and 90s). It's a drier heat than what I'm used to in the South so I was good with that). Then I returned home to the sauna.

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on October 31, 2015:

John - It was definitely time well spent. I hope that one day you can venture to the States and see a few sites. Seeing it all up close was really quite something, and the scientists in the labs downstairs who were working (behind glass) on their microscopes even encouraged you to ask questions through microphones as they did their work. They were very open and eager to educate.

FlourishAnyway (author) from USA on October 31, 2015:

Bill - The museum is fairly new and if you're ever in SD you'll have to stop by this place. It was a nice diversion. Thanks for reading! Have a great weekend!

Reynold Jay from Saginaw, Michigan on October 31, 2015:

Hi Flourish!!!!!!Looks like a fun place for me. I did teach dinosaurs and such and loved it. I do know that the Dakotas are one of the great palo sites in the world. Great Hub with lots of great facts. Humans have been toying with the environment such that all our foods is pretty much genetically altered to our liking. I votes YES as it is certain that it will be so.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on October 31, 2015:

Been there and done that. I think it was about 102 the day we were there...but it is fascinating.

John Hansen from Queensland Australia on October 31, 2015:

Great hub Flourish. When I was young I wanted to be a paleontologist when I grew up. I would love to visit the Mammoth site in Hot Springs. I also saw a documentary about it on TV recently. The photos were wonderful. Well done.

Bill De Giulio from Massachusetts on October 31, 2015:

Great hub Flourish. Very interesting. I was in SD only once back in 1987 and don't recall if the Hot Springs was opened yet. If it was then I missed an opportunity. Will have to definitely put this on the list if I ever return to the area. Great job and love the photos.