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Latest Research Findings

Channel Islands October 2014

Published on November 10, 2014 under Current Research
Channel Islands October 2014

Channel Islands–October 2014

Don on the way to collect the pygmy mammoth tusk.

Don on the way to collect the pygmy mammoth tusk.

This fall, two members of the Mammoth Site team, Justin Wilkins (Bonebed Curator) and Monica Bugbee (Preparator), traveled to Channel Islands National Park (CHIS) off the coast of southern California. Three of the Park’s five islands contain the fossils of the Channel Islands pygmy mammoth (Mammuthus exilis). The pygmies were descended from a population Columbian mammoths (Mammuthus columbi) who became isolated on the Islands. Due to the limited food source on the Islands, the Columbians slowly became smaller until, as adults, the dwarfed forms stood only six feet tall at the shoulders.

The Mammoth Site has been working with Channel Islands National Park for twenty years, to survey, salvage and study the Park’s unique mammoth fossils. The collaboration began in 1994 with the discovery of a nearly complete pygmy mammoth skeleton on Santa Rosa Island. The Park, seeking an expert in mammoth paleontology, contacted Dr. Larry Agenbroad for assistance. With Dr. Agenbroad’s help, the skeleton was recovered and brought to the Mammoth Site for preparation. After a thorough cleaning, the original specimen was returned to the park, but a replica can be seen on exhibit in the Mammoth Site exhibit hall. Dr. Agenbroad then began making regular trips to the park to collect mammoth specimens. It is estimated that at least 40% of the pygmy mammoth material now in museum collections was recovered during the past 20 years of collaboration between the Mammoth Site and CHIS.

In October Justin and Monica, along with Don Morris (retired CHIS Archaeologist and Mammoth Site Excavation Crew Chief), traveled to Santa Rosa Island to collect a mammoth tusk spotted by a USGS researcher. They also recovered a beautifully intact pygmy mammoth tibia and a partial femur. The team will return to the Island next summer to continue collection of mammoth material.

Justin working on removing a pygmy mammoth tibia.

Justin working on removing a pygmy mammoth tibia.