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Front Page » July 17, 2008 » Focus on Recreation » A Mammoth celebration
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A Mammoth celebration

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Sun Advocate reporter

It's been 20 years since a construction worker's backhoe dug up something far more interesting than dirt - the 10,000-year-old remains of one of the planet's last mammoths.

On Aug. 8 Carbon County residents can celebrate the discovery of the Huntington Mammoth at the College of Eastern Utah Prehistoric Museum. The five-hour event features a activities and learning opportunities for all ages. However, the younger set will be the ones with the most choices.

"We are going to have lots of kids' activities," Alison Sundahl, who's helping coordinate the event at the museum. "We will have paper along the walls for kids to try and make their own murals."

The list of activities for kids only begins with the mural making. During the day youth can participate in everything from rock art painting to atlatl throwing (an ancient weapon) to flint knapping.

For those who really want to immerse themselves in celebrating the Huntington Mammoth they can plunk down $20 and join the guest speakers at a "mammoth feast." From 6 p.m. on, the night is chock-full of food, fun and facts about the world when the mammoth roamed.

The feast will include talks from Jake Enk, an anthropology professor from the University of Utah. Enk has worked on the species identification of ancient cow and bison at proto-historic sites in the midwest and performed experiments in the preservation of DNA in soils.

His presentation, Humans and Animal, will address ancient DNA at the university. His topics also include the Huntington Mammoth - mammoth evolution and migration: questions, plans and progress, the short-faced bear, mastodon and dire wolf.

Robert Kirby from the Salt Lake Tribune is the second speaker of the night. Kirby is a lampoonist and columnist for the Tribune and does a lot of public speaking with his humorous focus. His path to becoming a columnist took some interesting twists and turns including working as stock clerk, a carpenter and then in 1979 joining the Springville Police Department.

His writing career took off in 1988 when he began writing law enforcement humor under the name of "Officer Blitz Kreeg."

As for the honoree, the Huntington Mammoth was discovered in Huntington Canyon by construction workers excavating the area for the new dam in 1988. What made the find even more spectacular was that 90 percent of the remains were intact.

Because the animal died and was immersed in a high cool lake archaeologists were presented with a specimen offering a myriad of research possibilities. The bones revealed proteins similar to what exists in today's elephants. In addition, the bone cells contained preserved DNA-bearing nuclei.

How this giant ended up in the canyon has never been determined. The speculation is that the climate changes may have driven the mammoth to higher ground.

However, the displacement apparently caused the animal to forage for foods that it did not ordinarily eat. The mammoth was so well preserved that some of its stomach contents were found. The discovery showed poor food for a mammoth was contained there, including pine needles, suggesting the creature was sick or undernourished.

The Year of the Mammoth is free and runs from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday, Aug. 8. The Mammoth Feast starts at 6 p.m. and may be purchased by calling Alison Sundahl at 613-5189.

For more information visit

About Utah elephants

Mammoths and Mastodons are two types of elephants that lived in Utah during the Ice Age. They differ in the shape and function of their teeth and in the shape of other bones, including the skull. They are related to modern elephants that live in Africa and Asia.

The Huntington Mammoth (Mammuthus columbi) was found on August 8, 1988 by a bulldozer operator working on the Huntington Reservoir Dam on the Wasatch Plateau in central Utah. He uncovered a front leg bone (the humerus) and a section of the tusk. The skeleton was about 90% complete.

The Huntington Mammoth lived about 10,500 years ago, very close to the time of the mammoth's extinction. The site is located at an elevation of 9,000 feet, making it the highest elevation find at the time (since this discovery, mammoth remains have been found in Colorado at 10,000 feet elevation).

This mammoth was a very old individual, as indicated by tooth wear and arthritis in its bones. Mounted cast skeletons of the Huntington Mammoth may be seen on exhibit at the Utah Museum of Natural History in Salt Lake City and CEU Prehistoric Museum in Price.

The CEU Prehistoric Museum also has the original mammoth bones.

Source: Utah Geological Survey

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