In 2010, John and his family were foraging for berries in their own backyard when they discovered something that would baffle the scientific community and change the course of understanding about the ice age and America’s place in the extinction of an amazing creature. The family’s discovery was found completely by accident and revealed a 12,000-year-old secret.
Take this journey with us, not only as the family discovers the massive creature but also what it taught researchers about America, the last great extinction period in world history, and the world around us. By the end of this story, you’ll be amazed at how much this accidental discovery has already mattered.
An Ordinary Day In Iowa
The farming family located in Oskaloosa, Iowa, own property that is nestled in an area that had previously been the location of a creek that had long ago dried up.
John’s sons were working with their dad to find fruit when they noticed something jutting out from the ground. At first, they didn’t recognize the object. Even as John moved closer to the ground to take a closer look, he could only tell that the object was massive and featured several unusual patterns.
A Prehistoric Discovery
Farmer John and his boys began to carefully dig around the large object. They had no idea that the find was more than 12,000 years old.
The object, they would soon discover, would provide a glimpse of prehistoric Iowa that had never previously been unearthed. As the family continued their dig, John looked on with an astounded look as he proclaimed, “Boys, that’s a bone, that’s a really big bone.”
An Enormous Bone Was Found
It was soon clear that the bone belonged to some type of gigantic prehistoric animal. John, having grown up on a farm, soon recognized the objects on the discovery as marrow lines.
As the dig continued, John predicted that the object was a leg bone and the animal was most certainly very large as the knee joint was similar in size to a soccer ball. The family decided to keep their find a secret and spent the next two years carefully digging in the area, revealing a growing collection of prehistoric bones.
Calling In The Professionals
John soon realized that the vast discovery of bones required professional help from archaeologists. He contacted the University of Iowa Museum of Natural History. By this time, John and his family had excavated 20 samples of various sizes. Some of the bones he found included ribs, vertebrae, and phalanges.
The family was amazed to learn they had found the remains of one of the most amazing and beautiful prehistoric creatures to ever roam our planet.
They Unearthed a Woolly Mammoth!
To John and his family’s surprise, their berry foraging excursion ended with the discovery of a massive woolly mammoth skeleton! It turns out they had unearthed one of the largest collections of mammoth bones every discovered in their region of the world.
Experts began helping the family in 2012 when they started a more astute excavation. Hundreds of volunteers came forward to donate their time at no cost. They would spend several more years excavating the family’s land.
Multiple Mammoths Were Discovered!
By 2015, excavators had discovered bones from three separate wooly mammoths. This remains one of the most striking Ice Age finds in Iowa and in the world.
Unfortunately, none of the mammoths were found with an entire skeleton; however, their remains still offer amazing insight into a prehistoric world. Scientist believed the animal was part of a herd known as the Columbian mammoths. Their next discovery baffled everyone.
The Columbian mammoth lived throughout the entire North American continent with remains discovered as far sound as Costa Rica. These amazing creatures lived during the Pleistocene epoch and were among the last mammoths of the species before they went extinct.
The animals roamed the earth so recently that they share many traits of theAsian elephant. Researchers didn’t expect to find non-Colombian mammoths among the herd but this story had already proven to be unique.
Another Kind of Mammoth
As investigators undertook a careful examination of all the remains to verify their assumption they began to look at the teeth that were found at the excavation site. Researchers soon realized that the teeth belonged to a smaller kind of wooly mammoth.
The smaller was previously not known to be in the Iowa area, which made the find even more remarkable. The discovery could prove that two mammoth species either overlapped in time or interacted at some point. The find may very well have changed the way archaeologists view animal interactions 12,000 years ago…
A Scientific Discovery
Archeologists soon realized that different wooly mammoth lineages were likely interacting during their respective lives. Researchers have used the discovery to put together an image of what it really looked like to exist during the time period.
The accidental excavation paints a vastly different scientific picture than previously thought. Well defined marks on the animals’ bones may even tell us how they died…
Bite Marks Uncover An Ancient Mystery
Researchers poured over the find and identified bite marks on the bones. While they haven’t identified exactly what caused the bite marks at this time, they remain hopeful they will identify the creature who caused them.
If the bites are finally identified, researchers may be able to paint a more clear picture of ancient Iowa and what other animals or reptiles were frolicking about during this time period. Soil and plants may provide further insight for scientists…
An Environmental Bombshell Could Be Around The Corner
Scientists believe the mammoths died and their remains decayed on the ground. Ultimately, their remains sank into the creek bank where they were discovered 12,000 years later.
Volunteers collected soil and plant samples which scientists are using for further research into this origins story. They are already starting to craft a full story about the wooly mammoths and what their prehistoric lives looked like. Wait until you find out how long researchers had been looking for this exact type of find.
Multiple scientists continued to work at the excavation site for several years after the boned were removed. Naturalist Dave Brenzel, who was working at the site said, “We’ve been looking for a site like this for 150 years. The only site in the Midwest with multiple mammoths is pretty exciting stuff.”
In the meantime, John wonders what he will do with all of the bones that have been discovered on his farm. John said that he has a variety of random mammoth bones just nonchalantly lying around his house. But work at the site isn’t done yet! Plants taken by researchers are already painting a vivid picture of the area.
Iowa Was Like Canada?
Scientists discovered something about all of those plant and soil samples they took. Naturalist Laura DeCook told reporters, “We have taken soil samples that have shown evidence of fir, spruce, and large trees, which indicate arboreal forest. The closest arboreal forest we have today would be in the northern states – Minnesota area, and up into Canada. So Iowa used to look totally different then.”
The research suggests that Iowa used to be similar to Canada in terms of vegetation. Researchers are not in the process of using high-tech devices to complete their work…
Their Discovery Helped Scientists Better Understand Mammoths
Scientists are attempting to ensure that they find out every bit of information possible from this amazing discovery. They plan to look at a variety of factors including oxygen and nitrogen isotopes in the bones, as well as carbon dating.
According to the University of Iowa Emeritus Professor of Geoscience Holmes Semken, “This data will give insight into the temperature of the water the animal drank, the kinds of plants it ate, and date the time of death, probably within 50 years. We would like to know how the mammoth died, but the museum scientists are most interested in how mammoths lived.” John has since done something incredible to push science forward.
Donating Their Historic Find To Science
Professor Holmes Semken said that farmer John had donated the wooly mammoth bones to the University of Iowa Museum of Natural History. The excavation is also being managed by the Mahaska County Conservation Board in order to ensure all of the science can be preserved properly.
Discoveries of this magnitude are often sold for a lot of money but this time researchers were given the bones with no strings attached. Even with his donation, wait until you hear about what John still has to deal with…
An Extra Room
Farmer John spoke with ABC News and said that he is still been thinking about what to do with all of these mammoth bones. He has even considered building an extra room onto his existing home in order to personally put the mammoth bones he kept back together.
With the ongoing excavation on his land, adding a construction site to the top of the list would probably be an overwhelming ordeal. While John is making decisions about what to do with his farm, scientists are deeply immersed in their own important research. Farmer John’s find may be a final glimpse into these animals lives as we’re about to explain.
The Last Ice Age
Woolly mammoths lived during the last Ice Age known as the Pleistocene Epoch. The period began about 1.8 million years ago and lasted until approximately 11,700 years ago.
During his particular Ice Age, glaciers covered the vast majority of the earth and it is also the first epoch during which homo sapiens evolved. It’s very likely that humans and wooly mammoths co-existed at some point in our short-lived history. This epoch is also the precursor to our current stage which is referred to as the Holocene Epoch. Using modern techniques, researchers have been able to chart the wooly mammoth’s pilgrimage into the United States.
Woolly Mammoth Ancestors
A genetic study was performed in 2008 and revealed that more than likely wooly mammoths came to North America through the Bering Strait from Asia approximately 300,000 years ago. It was originaly thought that the lastthe form of wooly mammoth, the smaller breed found on John’s farm, had replaced the Asian population.
The discovery in Iowa and another find in a Hot Springs sinkhole in South Dakto now reveal that the wooly mammoth may have co-existed with the Columbian mammoth. This is still merely conjectured, as both species may have inhabited the land at different time periods. But what does this tell us about humans and their interactions with wooly mammoths?
Humans And Mammoths
Humans, as we know them today, definitely lived with wooly mammoths. Specifically, during the Upper Palaeolithic period. This is when humans first entered Europe from Africa around 30,000 to 40,000 years ago. It is also known that before homo sapiens, Neanderthals, our human precursor, also coexisted with mammoths.
These Neanderthals were known to have used the bones of the mammoths as various useful tools, a discovery that was first published in 1823 by William Buckland. William had found the Red Lady of Paviland skeleton alongside wooly mammoth bones. Wooly mammoth art was also prevalent in the early years of man.
Wooly Mammoth Art
Art that has derived from the Ice Age, mostly in the form of cave paintings, engravings, and sculptures often feature the wooly mammoth. Mammoths are considered one of the top three most widely drawn creatures in ice age art. Art has been discovered in multiple countries including Russia, Spain, France, and Germany.
They Set Out To Build A Fence And Made In Incredible Discovery
Ken Campbell and Nicole Sauve from Sarnia, Canada made an incredible (and somewhat gruesome) discovery in their own backyard in 2013. The couple set out to build a fence but when Ken started to work, he unearthed something incredible while digging post holes. At the time, however, Ken thought nothing of the discovery, until Nicole had second thoughts…
Nicole Knew Something Was Off
While working on the fence, Ken discovered a few bones. Thinking they were simply animal bones, he put them aside and continued on with the project. After working on the fence for a week, Nicole noticed the bones sitting atop a bucket of dirt and immediately thought something was strange about them. “I said, ‘They’re not animal bones, Ken. Let’s dig some more and see what we can find,’” she said in an interview with The Star.
The Police Stepped In
After persuading Ken, the couple prodded around their yard more and quickly discovered more bones and bone fragments. They knew something strange was going on, so they called The Ontario Provincial Police who quickly taped off the couple’s backyard. Soon though, the police realized this was no normal crime scene and something incredible was underway…
A Forensic Anthropologist Is Called In
The Ontario Provincial Police were relieved this wasn’t a typical crime scene and that it appeared no one had been a victim of foul play. Calling in forensic anthropologist Michael Spence, he came to examine the site.
As The Ontario Provincial Police cordoned off the scene, Michael Spence went to work. In addition to the bones that Ken had discovered, Spence also discovered much more.
An Unbelievable Discovery
Michael Spence went to work, unearthing more bones from the couple’s backyard. To everyone’s amazement, the bones were not animal remains, but human remains. Incredibly, the skeleton was from an aboriginal woman. Altogether, Spence located a skull, femur, and ribcage.
Upon further examination, Spence determined the body was from a female, who looked to be around 24 years old when she died, most likely in the late 1500s or early 1600s. Due to the condition of her teeth, the archaeological team suspects she was part of a society known for hunting, gathering, and fishing.
Where Did She Come From?
While no one knows where the girl came from for sure, Ken and Nicole live by the Blue Water Bridge. This area was once the center of an Ojibwa trade network. It is suspected that the woman is a descendant of those merchants.
Once Spence discovered there was no foul play involved, the Registrar of Cemeteries was contacted. Unfortunately, they told Nicole that she was responsible for hiring an archaeologist if she wanted an assessment completed in her backyard and that she was responsible for footing the bill.
A Proper Burial
Despite having reported their find and Spence’s evaluation, the couple was still told they would have to cover the expenses for an archaeological assessment. Due to Ontario’s Funeral, Burial and Cremation Services Act, the pair was smacked with a $5,000 bill.
Nicole was rightfully disheartened by the news and appealed the cost with the mayor of Sarnia. Locals who were invested in the story have helped contribute to a fund for the couple. In the meantime, the young woman finally had a proper burial and her remains are at Aamjiwnaang First Nation cemetery.
He Found Himself Face To Face With Something Amazing
Jude Spark was just nine years old when he made a remarkable discovery. The young boy was out on a walk with his family in Las Cruces, New Mexico in November 2016 when he sprinted ahead to run away from his younger brother. Jude tripped and fell and found himself face to face with something amazing.
Jude’s first reaction was that he had found fossilized wood. In an interview with The New York Times, he said, “It was an odd shape. I just knew it was not something that you usually find.”
The Brothers Thought It Was A Cow Skull
Living in the desert, Jude and his brother, Hunter, are used to seeing animal bones not far off from their home. So when Jude tripped on a large bone on their walk, their first instinct was that it was a cow skull. The boys’ parents, however, thought it looked larger, almost resembling an elephant.
“When we went home, we were trying to research,” Ms. Spark said. “It didn’t match perfectly with elephants, so then we said, O.K. I guess it was something else.” Looking for answers, they reached out to a local biology professor, Peter Houde, at New Mexico State University.
A Long-Extinct Stegomastodon
Once Peter Houde began examing the photos and information the Sparks sent over, he recognized the bones almost immediately. The remains were more incredible than the family could have imagined: Jude had tripped over the fossilized tusk of a long-extinct stegomastodon. An elephantine creature, the stegomastodon is not a dinosaur, but still huge in size. Amazingly, the fossils in question are estimated to be from at least 1.2 million years ago.
Since prehistoric remains are so fragile, Houde explained how unusual the discovery was. As a precaution, the family returned to the site and carefully reburied the bones until a proper excavation was performed six months later.
A Swimming Pool Will Be Relaxing, He Thought
In a city as historic as New Orleans, you never know what you might find if you start digging around enough. Homeowner Vincent Marcello learned this the hard way when he decided to enhance his French Quarter home with a swimming pool in 2010.
The summers in Louisiana can be brutal and Marcello thought a pool would be a refreshing addition. This photo shows the view from the property at night.
Not Entirely Unexpected
Because of the historic area Marcello’s home was located, he fully expected that the pool construction workers would find something as they began to excavate his backyard. As he told WDSU in an interview, “We didn’t exactly know what we were going to find. This is the French Quarter. No telling what’s underground.”
Marcello hired an archaeologist from the University of New Orleans to check the spot out before beginning construction. But nothing could have prepared him for what they unearthed.
The Site Of An Old Burial Ground
Marcello was aware that there was a good chance that his home sat on the site of an old cemetery. The property, at North Rampart and Toulouse Streets in the French Quarter, had been one of the city’s first burial grounds. The archaeologist hired by Marcello, Ryan Gray, began his work in April 2010. It wasn’t long before his shovel struck something hard.
It was an old wooden coffin! And it turned out that there were many more of them…
So Many Caskets
Ryan Gray, the archaeologist, ended up unearthing one coffin after the other. The grand total was 13 caskets and two bodies. They were originally part of the St. Peter Cemetery, a burial site that dated back to 1723. The cemetery was used until the 1780s when it reached capacity despite the fact that the coffins were stacked on top of each other.
As Gray told WDSU, “Part of the reason why the cemetery was closed was because it was overcrowded, and historical accounts and complaints revealed that people couldn’t dig anywhere without hitting earlier remains.”
A Major Endeavor
Because of strict state laws regarding the handling of human remains, removing this many coffins proved to be a challenge. “This is not easy,” Gray told The Times-Picayune. He added that “an adult coffin, intact, probably weighs 600 to 800 pounds, and we were moving these without heavy equipment.”
The caskets were eventually removed from Marcello’s yard. A reburial ceremony for the bodies, which dated back 250 years, was held on April 18, 2015. The deceased were all buried in the St. Louis No. 1 cemetery.
Who Were These People?
Although the deceased were no longer able to tell their stories, we were able to learn a lot about them thanks to modern science. For example, the archeologists who first discovered the caskets noticed the presence of pollen, which indicates that the dead were buried with flowers.
Forensic testing including X-rays also provided information about the deceased. Labwork “determined that they were people of African, Native American and mixed heritage — in other words, New Orleanians,” said The Advocate. The Catholic reburial ceremony reflected the diversity of the group by including a Native American song and African drumming.
He Did The Right Thing
Archaeologist Ryan Gray is thrilled that Marcello did the right thing and called in experts to investigate before constructing his swimming pool. This way, we were able to learn something about the people he found buried and give them the proper and respectful reburial they deserved.
Marcello discussed his new pool with New Orleans Public Radio. “We call it the ‘pool of souls,” he said. “But we’re quite content to be on top of a cemetery, you know? We feel like it’s a good space. You know they always say we were, you know, a poltergeist site. But the fact is everybody is quite content to know they are swimming in the pool over coffins and stuff. It’s a very peaceful situation. It’s not anything that would be haunted or spooky.”
Just Playing Around
Mississippi brothers Caid and Sean Sellers and their cousin Michael Mahalitc were playing in the background of the family’s property during their Spring Break in 2018. They found something unusual but didn’t think much of it at first.
It wasn’t until later that they realized they had found something unusual – something that attracted the attention of the local media and might have even changed their future career goals!
Not Petrified Wood
In the woods behind their Bovina, Mississippi property, Caid, Sean, and Michael were accustomed to finding petrified wood, which is common in the area. But one day they discovered something that just seemed different.
Speaking to Fox News, Caid said, “I thought it was a log. I tried to pick it up and it was really heavy and I saw teeth on it.” Curious, the boys used a golf cart to haul the item back home. They thought it was a dinosaur bone but after consulting with a paleontologist learned what it really was: a 100,000-year-old mastodon jaw!
Paleontologist George Phillips told Fox, “We find pieces of Ice Age creatures all the time. You might find a fragment of a mastodon tooth or perhaps part of a bone but they found a really intact half lower jaw with two teeth. So everything seems to be intact.”
Now, all three boys have an interest in paleontology and plan to keep the jawbone. They’d also like to discover the rest of the fossil, says Caid. “It’d be really cool if we found the body and stuff,” he said.