Mammoth tusk discovered in New Ulm is 22,136 years old
NEW ULM — Science Museum of Minnesota Fitzpatrick Chair of Paleontology Alex Hastings, PhD was so excited, he couldn’t stand still.
During a presentation at the Brown County Historical Society Annex Saturday, Hastings announce the age of a locally-found partial mammoth tusk was 22,136 years old, according to radiocarbon dating.
The partial tusk from a Columbian mammoth was found in 2020 in a New Ulm gravel pit by Dalton Demaris of M.R. Paving & Excavating. The company donated the partial tusk to the Brown County Historical Society Museum.
Becky Grussendorf of New Ulm won the “guess the age of the tusk contest,” with a contest entry of 22,000 years. Her prize was a small, stuffed mammoth.
“It was a guess,” said Grussendorf. “I learned that mammoths were here a little more than 20,000 years ago and added a few more years,”
A partial hipbone from an American mastodon found in a New Ulm gravel pit by Walter Bauer was donated to the museum in 2020, in memory of Walter “Wally” Bauer by his wife Joyce M. Dauer, according to the Science Museum.
Hastings’ eyes sparkled as he talked about finding ancient animal bones in Minnesota.
“Southern Minnesota is chock full of ancient bones. I love it,” said Hastings. “You’ve got a great place here. New Ulm has a very unique Pleistocene mammoth deposit. New Ulm and the Iron Range are my favorite places to find ancient bones.”
Hastings said the donated ancient bones came from Columbian mammoths that lived throughout North America before going extinct at the end of the last ice age.
Both locally found remains are now in a new display case near the museum main entrance.
Minnesota is one of just seven states without a state fossil. The Science Museum of Minnesota held a public contest in 2021 to determine the official state fossil from the museum’s collection.
Contest results showed that 11,000 people, 25% of the voters, nominated a giant beaver specimen to be the official state fossil.
Hastings said Giant Beavers, growing up to eight feet long and weighing up to 200 pounds, still inhabit Minnesota.
“Legislation (SF 3129 in 2021) was part of a large budget bill that got out of committees but was not passed. It was part of a big budget bill that was not approved,” said Hastings. “Since then, the legislation has gone to committee. But we aren’t giving up on the Minnesota State Fossil Initiative.
Hastings said many bison skulls have been found in Minnesota and an ancient crocodile was have been found in northern Minnesota.
“Not all animals died in the ice age,” he said. “White-tailed deer survived it.”
Hastings said New Ulm amateur collector William Eibner has contacted him a number of times after he found fossilized horses near New Ulm.
Eibner said he has talked to Hastings regarding ancient bones found in gravel pits after people that found them approached him about what to do.
“I called the Science Museum. Alex (Hastings) reassured me that mining operations can’t be shut down (when ancient bones are found) unless human remains are found,” said Eibner.
Eibner has explored the Cottonwood and Minnesota River valleys in more detail since 2016.
“We’re finding gemstones, fossils and artifacts,” said Eibner. “Fossils and artifacts belong to everyone, so we started donating and got involved with the Science Museum.”
Eibner said he has found arrowheads and pottery in the nearby river valleys, but has not determined their age yet.
Earlier in the program, Science Museum Lab Manager Nicole Dzenowski described in detail how the ancient bone fragments were preserved after they were found using a “slow dry” method including using changing percentages of water, acrysol and isopropyl alcohol in a lined feeding trough to prevent cracking.
“The tusk came out intact. There was no movement in the drying process.” said Dzenowski contacted several archeological lab managers to determine how to slow dry the bones.
For more information, visit smm.org.