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Mammoth Discovery: Uncovering Channel Islands history

A piece of the Channel Islands history is being uncovered at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History.

The museum recently received a giant box brought in by Mammoth Movers.

What’s in the box has scientists amazed, but getting it to this point wasn’t easy.

“This guy has traveled more today than in the last 13,000 years,” said National Park Service archaeologist Don Morris.

Flash back to 2014, when biologist Peter Larramendy just happened to be in the right place at the right time.

“We were walking along and we just looked up to the left of us and there was this mammoth tusk just right there,” said Larramendy.

It was a mammoth discovery, literally. Larramendy made the find of a lifetime on Santa Rosa Island and that’s what started this two-year adventure.

“We went back and I thought we would have an easy tusk that we could recover in an hour or so. That was in October of 2014, we finished the job today,” said Morris, “It took awhile because we found out the tusk was the neck and the skull and we had a very complex project.”

Since the discovery, Morris has led a team of paleontologists from the National Park Service to safely remove the fossil and bring it back to the mainland.

“We brought a very well preserved mammoth skull from Santa Rosa Island. It is easily the best I have ever seen,” said Morris.

What makes this find so remarkable is not just its condition, but the mystery behind the fossil.

“We are not sure if it is a small full size Columbian mammoth, the species that got out to the island originally, or whether it is a large variety of the Pygmy mammoth,” said Morris.

There’s also a chance it could be the missing link between the two species of mammoths and that is what curator Paul Collins at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History is trying to find out.

“The interesting thing about this particular specimen is it is a specimen that is intermediate in overall size between a full size Columbian mammoth on the mainland which would’ve stood at shoulder height at 14 feet and the Pygmy mammoth, which at shoulder height was only 5-1/2 to 6 feet.” Collins said. “It sits intermediate in size, which is really unusual to get a fossil that is midway through that process of dwarfing. To actually have a specimen you can look at that is showing that active process occurring.”

Besides possibly being the missing link, scientist are more intrigued by this find than others because charcoal samples date the skull to be 13-thousand years old, That means the mammoth would have been alive at the same time man arrived in North America.

The fossil is affectionately named Larry, in recognition of Larramendy that found it, and the late Larry Agenbroad, one of the world’s leasing paleontologists.

The Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History is letting the public watch them as the work on Larry. The special viewings will take place twice a week starting in late January.

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