Beneath the sand and rocks that stretch across Nye County, just northwest of Pahrump, lie the ancient remains of a mammoth.
Stephen Rowland, a paleontologist and UNLV professor, worked to unearth the fossils with a team of students since last fall.
The remains were first discovered by Larry Williams, a local who came across its ivory tusks protruding from the desert ground, before reporting it to the Bureau of Land Management.
Rowland carbon dated fossil specimens of Planorbella—a type of freshwater air-breathing snail— within the excavation site at about 23,000 years, suggesting the mammoth lived during the last glacial period of the Pleistocene epoch.
In addition to the tusks, the team recovered a shoulder blade, vertebrae and various bone fragments. Missing from the find were the top of the mammoth’s skull and jaw. Rowland hopes to find part of the jaw or fossilized teeth further in the sediment, which could help determine the mammoth’s age before death and clarify which species of mammoth the fossils belong to.
Due to the position of the remains at the site, Rowland is convinced the animal died standing up, possibly while stuck in the mud.
“I’m quite optimistic that once we excavate further west from where we’ve been working, we have a good chance at finding leg bones, ribs and other things we haven’t found yet,” Rowland said.
Given the location of the dig site, Rowland said he believes the fossils belong to a Columbian mammoth, which can only be found in North America and were the largest of the mammoth species, growing up to about 13 feet.
“They almost look just like big elephants with bigger tusks,” said Lauren Parry, a doctoral student who’s studying mammoth paleoecology. ”You can also learn a lot about mammoth’s behavior and other things that may not fossilize because we still have elephants around.”
During the late Pleistocene, Southern Nevada was made up of marsh and wetlands. Petrified wood found in the area indicate that a mixture of trees, shrubs and grasses covered the valley, which was the ideal environment for Columbian mammoths, according to Parry.
Hoping to use the excitement surrounding the discovery, Rowland plans to fundraise money for ongoing and future UNLV paleontology projects.
The crowdfunding project will go live on UNLV Rebel Raiser on April 1st with a goal of $8,000. The project will establish funding levels where contributors at certain levels will be invited to help excavate the site. For $1000, one donor will be invited to help name the mammoth.
Once excavated, the fossils will be housed in the Las Vegas Natural History Museum.