It seems that making driveways and roads is a way to see the Yakima Valley’s pre-history.
First, there was Clyde Friend, in the East Valley area, who uncovered a grove of petrified trees while bulldozing a driveway.
But when Bronwyn and Douglas Mayo were having a private road put on their property north of Selah, they made a mammoth discovery.
They uncovered the remains of a mammoth that has since been studied by Central Washington University and is the subject of a traveling educational exhibit showing people what life was like in the area in ancient times.
While an elephant-like creature may seem wildly out of place in present-day Yakima, they were actually quite common in the region. The Columbian mammoth first appeared in North America 1 million years ago, and its territory would extend from Canada down to Central America.
They went extinct about 10,000 years ago. In Washington state, where until recently no dinosaur fossils were ever found, the mammoth is the state’s official fossil, and finding mammoth remains is not unusual.
Wooly mammoth remains were found in a Granger clay pit in the early-to-mid-20th century, and in 2001, four years before the Mayos discovered their mammoth, construction workers in Moxee found a mammoth tusk while building a parking lot.
What makes the Mayo’s find unusual was where it was found, and how much of the mammoth was there.
Typically, mammoth remains are found scattered in deposits left when massive floods poured through the area at the end of the Ice Age. The Wenas Mammoth, on the other hand, was found above the Missoula Flood deposits and is considered a well-preserved specimen.
The Mayos were making a road on their property off South Wenas Road when the mammoth’s front leg bone was uncovered in February 2005.
After that discovery, CWU worked for five years to recover the bones as part of its Wenas Creek Mammoth Project, which used paleontology, archaeology and geography to recover the bones while putting them in context for where they were found.
During the dig, additional mammoth bones were found along with other animals and possible artifacts from humans, but it was not believed that they were related to the mammoth.
CWU’s dig was closed in 2010 in order to turn attention to examining the bones in the lab as well as to preserve the site for future digs, when technology will be more advanced.
A group of educators and supporters formed the Wenas Mammoth Foundation in 2012 to promote the history and science of the site while preserving it, with the bones being recently returned from the CWU laboratory for the foundation’s museum.
The foundation also has a traveling exhibit and hosts events at the dig site. Students from Perry Technical Institute, Yakima Valley College, YV-Tech and Eisenhower and Selah High schools erected a life-size mammoth silhouette at the site.
For more information on the mammoth, visit www.wenasmammoth.com/index.html. You can take a virtual tour of the dig at http://www.highsierraproductions.com/cwu.htm.
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