A portion of a Columbian mammoth skull and tusks have been uncovered in southeastern Idaho, and experts say a rare entire skeleton might be buried there. Experts estimate the mammoth was about 16 years old and lived about 70,000 to 120,000 years ago in what was a savanna-like country populated with large plant-eaters and predators. The skeleton was spotted earlier this month by a fossil hunter volunteering for the US Bureau of Reclamation near American Falls Reservoir. It was partially excavated by students and instructors from Idaho State University, before work was forcibly halted on Oct. 18 by rising water levels in the reservoir. They plan to return next summer when the reservoir drops.
"It gives us a little more time to prepare if this is a complete mammoth," says Mary Thompson, collections manager for the Idaho Museum of Natural History. "This is going to be substantial to go out and excavate a complete mammoth." She says more bones and tusks remain in the bank that can't immediately be removed. Workers built a barrier to keep the fossil in place while underwater. The area, Thompson says, has produced fossils of various extinct species, ranging from saber-toothed cats, short-faced bears that were larger than grizzlies, and giant sloths. Thompson says she hopes to have the portions of the mammoth the team managed to get out put on display early next year. (Read more woolly mammoth stories.)