After the remains of a mammoth were found in Chelsea, Mich. last September, Paleontology Prof. Daniel Fisher and Adam Rountrey, manager of the Research Museum Vertebrate Collection, gathered to discuss the find’s significance and future plans for its display.
Fisher worked with farmer James Bristle, who found the remains, and a team of both graduate and undergraduate students on the excavation, and over the course of a single day they uncovered a significant amount of fossil matter.
The discussion, held at Conor O’Neill’s Traditional Irish Pub as one of UMNH’s monthly science café series, consisted of brief presentations from Fisher and Rountrey on the story of the discovery and some of their work in the time following and included time for conversations at individual tables based on prompted discussion questions.
According to Fisher, the mammoth specimen provides insights into the creature’s life and interactions with humans. Additionally, Fisher said the mammoth appears to be a hybrid between the two known North American mammoth species: the Columbian mammoth and the woolly mammoth.
Fisher said he is most excited about what this discovery can uncover about early human’s relationships with mammoths.
“I think the most exciting thing and most important thing is the nature of human impact on these animals,” he said. “The early people who immigrated to this continent were seeing these animals and they were critical to their livelihood. We are humans; we are interested in our own history.”
As part of the discussion, the museum directors asked for suggestions from the public on how to display the specimen. The museum already plans to display the entirety of the skull and create a mold and cast of the tusk to place into the skull. The tusks were removed from the skull in order to safely dry and study them.
Rountrey also said a larger project on fossil display by the Museum of Natural History is currently underway, which aims to create 3D models of the University’s collection of fossils to be viewed online.
Rountrey said this is important because it would allow researchers to examine fossils without having to physically move them, risking damage.
“The models are valuable not just in making a nice website,” he said. “They serve in some ways to protect the specimen.”
LSA freshman Bailey Rousseau said he found the concept of a hybrid species fascinating.
“I think it’s pretty interesting how it might be a hybrid of the two known pachyderm-like species from the Ice Age,” he said.
Kira Berman, assistant director of the Museum of Natural History, said the discovery is a thrilling one for the University.
“It’s just so exciting to have such a large exciting fossil that’s found so close,” she said. “It has such an importance in terms of what we know about Michigan’s prehistory.”