CALGARY, Alberta — About 67,000 years ago, a gigantic mammoth chowed down on enormous mouthfuls of grass in Texas, just west of where modern-day Austin is located, according to new research.
The finding is surprising, given that the beast’s remains were discovered in Waco, Texas, more than 120 miles (200 kilometers) away from the Columbian mammoth’s (Mammuthus columbi) ancient picnic spot near Austin, the researchers said.
“They really weren’t in the Waco area until right before they died, which is a little unexpected,” the study’s lead researcher, Don Esker, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Geosciences at Baylor University in Waco, told Live Science. “Two hundred kilometers is within the largest distance that we’ve known Columbian mammoths to travel, but only just.” [Mammoth Resurrection: 11 Hurdles to Bringing Back an Ice Age Beast]
Esker and his colleagues made this discovery by studying the isotopes (an isotope is a variation of an element that has a different number of neutrons in its nucleus) in the mammoth’s teeth. So far, Esker has studied just one tooth, but he has plans to examine more teeth from different mammoths in the coming months.
Esker could have a lot of work in front of him. There are remains from at least 23 mammoths dating to the late Pleistocene in Waco. The prehistoric graveyard was found in 1978 by two local youngsters, Paul Barron and Eddie Bufkin, who were searching for fossils and arrowheads when they discovered the fossilized mammoth bones. In 2015, President Barack Obama issued a presidential proclamation, with bipartisan support, that made the site a national monument, according to the National Park Service.
It’s likely, but not certain, that these fossils are from the same mammoth nursey herd, Esker said. His goal is to confirm whether these mammoths traveled together as a social group, and to learn where they traveled and what they ate, he said.