The mammoth skull is the most complete ever but its size makes it difficult for scientists to determine whether it is a Columbian or pygmy mammoth.
Paleontologists are baffled by the discovery of a mammoth skull in Channels Island National Park off the Southern California coast. The skull is fully intact, probably the most well-preserved mammoth skull ever. More importantly, it exhibits unique features.
Researchers believe that the skull likely belonged to an extinct species of elephant that was never documented before and could represent a previously unknown transitional species.
“This mammoth find is extremely rare and of high scientific importance. It appears to have been on the Channel Islands at the nearly same time as humans,” said the Mammoth Site paleontologist Justin Wilkins. "I have seen a lot of mammoth skulls and this is one of the best preserved I have ever seen.”
A team of researchers, working on Santa Rosa Island for the past week, excavated the unique mammoth fossil from an eroding steam bank within the Channels Island National Park. They were surprised to see the size of the skull. It was clearly a mammoth skull, dating back to approximately 13,000 years. But it was not large enough to definitely qualify as a Colombian mammoth and not too small to be declared a pygmy. It was somewhere in between the two.
Colombian mammoths roamed North America about three million years ago. The existing theory suggests that mammoths traveled to the Channel Islands during the Ice Age when sea levels were lower and ancient landmass of Santarosae was existed. Their descendents shrunk over time and downsized from 14 feet tall to 6 feet tall pygmy mammoths, called Mammuthus exilis and eventually went extinct. But the latest discovery of mammoth fossil has complicated things a bit more and researchers are not sure where this mammoth specimen fits into the big picture.
The mammoth was originally discovered in September 2014 when National Park Service biologist Peter Larramendy saw an ivory tusk bulging from the gravel sediment of the canyon while conducting a survey. Larry Agenbroad, who was also credited with finding the world's largest mammoth graveyard in South Dakota, died later that year.
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USGS Geologist Dan Muhs says. "The discovery of this mammoth skull increases the probability that there were at least two migrations of Columbian mammoths to the island—during the most recent ice age 10-30,000 years ago, as well as the previous glacial period that occurred about 150,000 years ago."