WACO, Texas — The moon has been looking over the Lone Star State long before it was ever called Texas.
That includes a time when mammoths roamed the earth and evidence of those incredible animals can be found a very unique spot in Waco simply called The Mammoth Site.
Don Esker is a paleontologist and director of the site that looked a little bit different over 50,000 years ago.
“This is one of the most incredible ice age sights not just in North America but on the planet,” Don said. “It’s a spot where 24 or 25 mammoths, at a minimum, died in a series of catastrophic flash floods back during the end of the last ice age.”
The site was discovered in 1978 when two young men looking for arrowheads found a bone, a really, really big bone. Turns out the discovery lead to a treasure trove of Columbian mammoths that met an unfortunate end long before humans had landed in the new world.
“For whatever reason, these animals were gathered together in the bottom of that creek bed,” Don said. “Maybe they were down there because the grass was a little greener, maybe they were down there because they were down there because they were using the creek bed as a path to get to the Brazos River. Well whatever the reason was, they couldn’t have picked a worse time.”
A raging flash flood sealed the fate of the mammoths, some of them standing over 14 feet tall.
“Many of the animals drowned, those that didn’t drown unfortunately got stuck in the thick layer of mud that flash floods often leave behind. They died of exhaustion over a period of many weeks.”
Now the incredible fossils are displayed in a climate controlled building and can be seen on a daily basis. Among the mammoth remains other animals were found including a camel. Turns out they too were roaming Texas all those years ago.
Jeremy Holt leads tours through site that’s only been open to the public for the past few years.
“They ate about 300 to 700 pounds of grass a day and they drank about 50 gallons of water a day,” Jeremy said. “Now I’m supposed to drink 6 glasses of water a day to be healthy, from what I’m told, but if I drank 50 gallons, I would just cry. I don’t want to do that at all.”
Visitors can get a first hand look at the remains that are technically fossils.
“This is our best understanding of the Columbian Mammoth,” Jeremy said.
“Well they are fossils because they’re over 10,000 years old and that’s the only requirement. But they’re not fossilized. They haven’t been turn to stone or anything like that. The bones are made out of calcium phosphate, just like your bones and mine.”
Despite 16 mammoths being recovered, stored, and displayed at the Mayborn Museum on the Baylor campus, there’s still plenty more mammoth to muster. There’s just one problem.
“We’re not done, in fact what you’re looking at is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of how much there is to find out here,” Jeremy said. “But Baylor is actually out of storage space.”
For now, the Mammoth site serves only as a tourist destination with the hope that one day soon, more history will be uncovered.
“The key to digging again is going to be becoming part of the national park system,” Jeremy said. “Now when we become part of the national park system, the national park system has said unequivocally that they want us. It’s not going to be that we’re going to get a lot funding from them, it’s not a matter of Federal funding, it’s a matter of federal funding, it’s a matter of getting the attention that we need out here.”
Pat Worrell took the tour with a group of friends that happen to have a mammoth size sense of humor.
“We brought some old fossils to see some old fossils today,” Pat said. “It’s just interesting to see things that are older than we are in this group.”
All joking aside, getting a chance to see this incredible piece of Texas history is a joy for those young at heart and wise in years.
“It’s amazing to know just how much you can find, what you can learn from just some from bones.”
The mammoth site in Waco, a chance to see some Texas history that’s as big as the state is.
“It’s just really fascinating to think that it’s just right here literally at our backdoor. It’s worth the trip definitely.”