Clash of the Mammoths

More than 12,000 years ago, 2 bull mammoths engaged in a battle for dominance on the plains of what would later become northwestern Nebraska. Both about 40 years old and evenly matched weighing 10 tons each and standing 13 feet tall, their struggle continued for perhaps hours, until their tusks became locked together and one fell, dragging the other to earth with him. Unable to unlock their tusks from each other, and unable to rise again to their feet, they both eventually died  there where they lay. Over the following thousands of years, their bones fossilized and were forgotten.

In 1962 a landowner noticed some very large bones and contacted a team of archeologists. Over the next few days digging uncovered the fossilized bones of one mammoth, but further digging revealed a bonus: a second mammoth, his tusks intertwined with the first. The remains of both were removed from the ground and taken to the University of Nebraska at Lincoln where they were tucked away in a research facility there. In 2006, the remains were finally returned to within a few miles of where they were found to be put on public display at the Trailside Museum of Natural History at Fort Robinson State Park.

Several weeks ago, Harland and I paid a visit to the museum. Just inside the door we were greeted by the looming figure of one of the mammoths.

We stood open-mouthed -staring up at the 13 foot giant.

Just behind him is an exhibit showing how the 2 mammoth skeletons appeared as they were being excavated back in 1962,

and a painted mural on the wall depicts their final battle.

Also included in the exhibit is the flattened skull of an ice age coyote found beneath one of the mammoth bodies.

It’s thought the coyote was either in the wrong place at the wrong time when the mammoths fell, or later as he fed upon their remains, one of the mammoth’s bodies shifted, crushing the hapless coyote beneath its bulk.

We didn’t have as much time as we would have liked to spend at the museum, so someday we’ll have to visit again.

For more information you can find the museum’s website here.

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