On the outskirts of the bustling city of Waco, Texas is a partially hidden piece of paleontological history of mammoth proportion. Waco is a comfortably sized city, conveniently situated between Dallas and Austin just south of Ft. Worth. Waco is home to many sights and attractions that thrill both the young and the young-at-heart alike.
One such attraction is the Waco Mammoth Monument. Situated on 107 acres the Monument became one of the newest additions to the National Park System on July 10, 2015 by Presidential proclamation from President Barack Obama.
A BIT OF HISTORY
On a balmy spring day in 1978, two young men set off on an afternoon adventure in search of arrowheads, fossils and other interesting finds near the Bosque River. As the men were walking down a ravine looking under shrubs and digging in the dirt examining small pointed rocks for the deliberate chipping pattern on the edges in hopes they had found an arrowhead when they discovered a bone.
When they first came across the bone they may have thought, “Cool, an old bone, but it probably came from a cow.” The land that they were walking on was, at one time, an old dairy farm. As they started uncovering the bone, it became rather obvious that what they had found… was no cow bone! This bone, which they rightly assumed, was part of a leg, a very big leg because that bone by its self was 3′ tall, nearly half of their height!
human femur vs. mammoth femur
The young men took the bone to Strecker Museum at Baylor University. There, staff member David Lintz came to the realization that the bone was part of a leg bone from a mammoth, a Columbian Mammoth to be precise.
Mammoths were quite large animals. They stood 14′ tall at the shoulders, weighed an impressive 20,000-24,000 lbs.! The daily diet of a mammoth consisted much of the same as what modern day elephants eat today, but in much greater quantities. A single Columbian mammoth ate as much as 300-700 lbs. of grass, leaves, and other plant matter and drank as much as 50 gallons of water a day, and in turn, produced about 400 lbs. of dung daily! The tusks of a mammoth could reach lengths of 12-14′ from end to end.
MORE PRESENT DAY
For the next 23 years museum staff members and volunteers explored the ravine, uncovering 23 unique Columbian mammoths. Columbian mammoths have been discovered throughout North America, what made the Waco mammoths unique was that eighteen of those remains were from a nursery herd, a herd that contained only adult females and juveniles, the first and only recorded evidence of a nursery herd of Pleistocene mammoths.
As the paleontologists and volunteers began uncovering the remains of the mammoths, they discovered three separate natural disasters that caused the demise of the mammoths. The first event drowned the entire nursery herd between 65,000 and 72,000 years ago. During the second and third flooding events the remains of a bull mammoth, juvenile, a female mammoth, a camel, a tooth from a saber cat, and at this time, an unknown animal were also discovered.
The Monument is a unique destination to view paleontological finds such as the mammoths because the bones have been left “in situ”. Meaning, that the original bones were kept in their original position found within the bone bed.
Although the Waco Mammoth Monument is comprised of 107 acres with a visitor center, preservation hall, gift shop and facilities to host amazing school tours and special dig sites for students (learn about them here!), only 2 acres have been explored at this time. Because of the amount of specimens found in that 2 acres, it is thought to contain a substantial amount of hidden knowledge and information below the layers of dirt that will help us understand in greater detail what life was like, what lived and an how interactions were made in the Pleistocene Epoch.
The City of Waco, The Waco Mammoth Foundation, Baylor University, and the National Park System have collaborated in an effort to preserve the mammoth remains and to expand the Monument.
The preservation hall at the Mammoth Monument is climate and humidity controlled. The walls of the structure extend 25-40′ into the ground to the bedrock below the water table. In addition, the windows are situated so as there is no direct sunlight into the building to degrade the mammoth bones. There are at least two additional mammoth remains located within the walls of the preservation hall that are waiting to be re-uncovered. At the time that the hall was being built, one set was discovered where a staircase was being built causing a slight relocation of the staircase. The other set was discovered were one of the exterior walls was being built causing that wall being pushed back an additional 17′. In order to protect the bones they were reburied in soil.
The future of the Waco Mammoth Monument is full of excitement and anticipation. Due in part to the combined partnerships and donations from individuals and businesses, efforts to build an on-site lab are being developed. Once the lab is built, excavations can begin again to discover what life was like in Texas in the Pleistocene Epoch, most likely, and hopefully, starting with the two mammoths that had to be reburied.
For more information about scheduling your own tour, please visit their website, here or call (254) 750-7946.
• Tuesdays –Fridays: Open 11:00 a.m. –5:00 p.m.
• Saturdays: Open 9:00 a.m. –5:00 p.m.
• Sundays and Mondays: Closed
• (Also closed on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day)
Guided Tour Fees
• Adults: $5
• Seniors (over 60): $4
• Military (with ID): $4
• Educators (with ID): $4
• Students (7th grade through college): $4
• Children (preK through 6th Grade): $3
• Infants (ages 3 and under): Free
National Park passes do not apply to guided tour fees. Please support our preservation mission, access to the Dig Shelter is by guided tour only.