The Mammoth Site of Hot Springs, South Dakota was one we found off of the beaten path. While on the way to Sturgis, South Dakota, we stopped by a “small looking” building that claimed to be an active dig site for mammoth fossils. My first reaction to Marty’s suggestion of stopping was “Why not? Didn’t everyone want to be a paleontologist or archaeologist when they grew up? I did!” We pulled our camper into the parking lot and piled out of the truck. To be honest, the building exterior seemed a bit drab. I had this feeling that it would be a “stretch your legs quickly” type of stop. Little did I know, we’d spend over an hour here with bones dating back to the Ice Age.
I am not sure if you know about the Columbian Mammoth but until our visit, we were all clueless. The Columbian mammoth stood 3 feet (1m) taller than the Woolly Mammoth (you know, the one we all grew up knowing). The Columbian mammoth was about 1.5 feet taller than today’s African Elephant. This mammoth species was huge.
The Mammoth Site of Hot Springs, SD is an active paleontological dig site, which boasts the largest concentration of mammoth remains in the world! The current mammoth count is 61, with 58 Columbian and 3 woolly mammoths.
“Our story begins in 1974 when bulldozers leveling a hill for a housing project unearthed bone and ivory. The land owner, a local man named Phil Anderson, halted construction until scientists could assess the find. He contacted Dr. Larry Agenbroad, who immediately recognized the potential significance of the find. A private non-profit organization, The Mammoth Site of Hot Springs, SD, Inc., was formed to protect the site, and the rest, as they say, is history!”
“Over 85 species of plants and animals have been recovered from the sinkhole, including two mammoth species, the Columbian (Mammuthus columbi) and the woolly (Mammuthus primigenius), the fearsome giant short-faced bear (Arctodus simus), and relatives of modern day camels (Camelops hesternus) and llamas (Hemiauchenia macrocephala), as well as numerous small animals and invertebrates (rodents, toads, snails, etc.).”
“Research topics over the last 40 years have included reconstruction of the Ice Age sinkhole environment, population biology of the mammoths who died here, formation of the sinkhole, and much more! The majority of our specimens are preserved in-situ, or in place just as they were deposited. This allows researchers and visitors alike to view the bones in their natural setting.” -MammothSite
The Mammoth Site is not only a tourist destination but also an educational one. If I lived in the area, we’d definitely join in on their children’s programs.
Kids ages 4-12 can become Junior paleontologists. They will dig for replica fossils and learn about the site.
They also have an Advanced Paleontologist program where kids 10+ learn the excavation techniques as well as about the site.
College students can apply for an internship at the Mammoth Site. After reading the pamphlet, I was slightly envious. While it may not pay a whole lot and the recognition is scarce, the job seems like a dream come true one.
If you are ever in West South Dakota, head over to Hot Springs. You will not be disappointed with the European flair of the city nor the Mammoth Site.
See more at Mammoth Site!