Something very strange just happened near California: a 13,000-year-old mammoth skull was just excavated, but a mammoth in and of itself isn't strange.
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"This mammoth find is extremely rare and of high scientific importance," Don Morris, a retired archaeologist who studied the remains found at Channel Islands National Park, said in a statement. "I have seen a lot of mammoth skulls and this is one of the best preserved I have ever seen."
There is a lot about the fossil that is a mystery. For one, they aren't sure what species the creature is because the skull is too small to belong to one of the Columbian mammoths that was known to be in North America. Still, it is too large to belong to any of the pygmy mammoths that evolved.
Which means that it is something completely new.
To add to the mystery, the mammoth's tusks give conflicting evidence as to what age it was when it died. The right tusk is five feet long and coiled in a way that you often see with fully grown mammals. The left is shorts and seems like it belongs to a juvenile.
So where does this skull belong? Morris and his colleagues hope they will find an answer in the mammoth's teeth. They will look at the size, spacing, and thickness to guess the age.
Geologist Dan Muhs of the U.S. Geological Survey worked on the survey believes that the skull suggests multiple mammoth migrations from the California coast to the Channel Islands' shores about 30,000 years ago.
The expanded polar ice caps would have locked up water at the poles, causing sea levels to drop. This lowered sea levels and allowed the mammoths to swim while using their trunks as snorkels.
The mammoth skull was found by National park Service biologist Peter Larramendy in a 13,000-year-old rock layer.
"There's a possibility the mammoths died out before humans arrived, and it's possible humans ... hunted them to extinction," Muhs told CNN. "But there's a third possibility that at the end of the last glacial period, mammoths could have been under stress with limited food resources with sea levels rising at the islands. Then the arrival of humans delivered the final blow."