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Rare fossil found in New Ulm

Staff photo by Clay Schuldt A 5-foot section of mammoth tusk and mammoth hip bone was discovered in New Ulm in September. The rare fossil was shown to members of the Science Museum of Minnesota at the Riverside History & Nature Learning Center, Saturday.

NEW ULM — Saturday was an exciting day for local fossil hunters.

A mammoth tusk recently discovered in New Ulm was unveiled at the Riverside History & Nature Learning Center for inspection by Minnesota Science Museum experts.

The tusk was brought to the Riverside building as part of a special fossil identification. The tusk was found on Sept. 25 by Dalton Demarais at a gravel site near the New Ulm High School. The tusk was about 5 feet in length and weighs 50 lbs.

Alex Hastings, the Science Museum Fitzpatrick Chair of Paleontology, was on-hand to help identify fossils. Upon seeing the tusk he immediately began clapping with excitement.

“Anytime mammoth remains are found in Minnesota it is important,” he said. There are not many documented mammoth tusks found in Minnesota. Hastings estimated there were only a dozen documented finds in the state. There are rumors of other tusks, but the owners of the remains never contacted any paleontologist departments.

Hastings said the tusk found by Demarais was from a good-size Columbian mammoth. Along with the tusk, a piece of the animal’s hip bone was found. There was not enough of the hip left to determine if the animal was male or female, but Hastings was able to estimate it weighed 4 tons.

“This is a good find,” Hasting said.

Demarais found the fossil and has the final say in where it is displayed. His preference is to keep the tusk locally in New Ulm.

Hastings and Brown County Historical Society (BCHS) curator Ryan Henning discussed the best methods for maintaining the fossil to keep intact. Hastings suggested it be temporarily brought to the Science Museum in the Twins Cities to stabilize the fossil before returning it to BCHS for display.

This would not be the first mammoth remains at BCHS. A mammoth tooth has been part of the BCHS collection since the 1930s. The tooth was one of the museum’s earliest donations. It was originally found in 1912 during road construction on Franklin Street. Henning brought this tooth with him for inspection. Hastings confirmed the 1912 tooth was a mammoth molar, likely from a two or three-ton animal.

The Demarais find is exciting because it confirms mammoths were not uncommon in this area during the Ice Age.

Hastings said one of his goals was to create a greater record of animal life in Minnesota during the ice age around 10,000 years ago. The region once had animals that are now extinct, including mammoths and a large ancestor of the moose and even a relative of the sabertooth cat. Finds like this mammoth tusk help fill in the gaps.

Hastings said the rivers around New Ulm were great at depositing bones on the shore. No digging is necessary, but the problem is bones and fossils found near the river are distributed randomly without context. It can be difficult to identify where bones came from. In addition to viewing the mammoth tusk, Hasting was at the Riverside building to review other finds to determine the species of the animals and determine the age.

“We’re trying to figure out what is 10 years old or 10,000 years old,” Hasting said. “We’re looking for anything we don’t currently have a record of and how animals change. We want to know how Minnesota went from glacier to grassland.”

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