KENNEWICK – Researchers excavating a mammoth found south of Kennewick have unearthed other discoveries, including the remnants of snakes, lizards, ground squirrels, birds and possibly even a camel.
Researchers have dug through more than 11 feet of dirt at the Coyote Canyon dig site since excavation began five years ago, recovering more than 70 bones from the mammoth in addition to a variety of other animals.
Scientists have also learned the Mid-Columbia region went through a hot period around 9,000 years ago, said Bax Barton, director of research at the site. They can tell because they’ve found only small rodents such as field and deer mice from that time period; larger animals likely had to go to cooler areas to survive.
“We think of it as pretty inhospitable anyway, but 9,000 years ago, it was even hotter than it is now,” Barton told the Tri-City Herald.
Every clump of dirt taken from the hillside in the canyon is placed in white buckets and brought to a canopy-covered area a few yards away. There it goes through a “wet screen” process, where sediment is washed off. The remnants are taken to a picking lab in the two-story dig house atop a hill.
“Once you get it in the lab, it starts to look like a lizard jaw or rodent jaw or beetle wing,” said Barton, a research associate in the paleontology division at the Burke Museum at the University of Washington. “You have the environmental record for the Tri-Cities for the past, say, 20,000 years.”
Researchers recently announced a study of the mammoth’s lower jaw with one fairly complete tooth showed it to be about 40 years old when it died about 17,450 years ago.
Scientists also believe its carcass was washed to the current resting place, which sits at an elevation of 1,060 feet, in the ice age floods that reached about 1,250 feet.
There is some disagreement about where the mammoth, which likely stood 10 to 13 feet tall at the shoulder, came from. But its carcass is thought to have washed down from somewhere between present-day Tri-Cities and Spokane.
On Saturday, researchers lifted out their first mammoth bone of the 2015 season, a front rib bone. George Last, a geologist with Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, said it will help them remove a more crucial piece: the animal’s scapula, or shoulder blade.
“It’s a bit like pick-up sticks: You have to figure out which bone comes out in what order,” he said. “You don’t ever take any bones out until they’re freed up and ready to come out.”
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