Just an hour down the road from the Mount Rushmore National Memorial, in the town of Hot Springs, South Dakota, is the largest Mammoth research facility in the world. Mammoth Site was discovered in 1974 during preliminary excavation for a new housing subdivision. When excavators discovered first a Mammoth tooth, then other remains, property owners abandoned the development plans and instead built a museum and building to enclose the site.
The site lies in an area of Karst topography, meaning cave systems and underground waterways lie beneath the surface. A collapse of a cave created a sinkhole, which attracted wildlife to the warm spring water found below. The animal population’s remains gradually settled into the sinkhole. Unlike other paleontology sites, the remains found here are not fossils as they were not mineralized but actually preserved in the clays and sands accumulated in the sinkhole.
Currently 61 Mammoths have been unearthed, most being Columbian Mammoth, but they have found three Wooly Mammoth. Other animals discovered at the site include Giant Short-faced Bear and American Camel.
Work at the site is on-going and you are invited to tour the area. You’ll enjoy a short video to educate you on the history of the dig-site, then take a guided tour around the sinkhole, and visit the exhibit hall.
If you feel like getting dirty, you can actually take part in a simulated excavation offered through August 15th. A Jr. Paleontology Program invites kids 4-12 to learn excavation techniques and identification of Mammoths and Short-faced Bears. An Advanced program is offered for anyone age 5 and up.
The facility has always operated as a non-profit, utilizing donations and volunteers. They are planning a new Learning Center and are closing in on the fund-raising goals. Contributions can be made as a one time donation, become a supporting member, or you can ‘buy a brick.’ Or, you can visit the site and rest assured your admission will go to the continuing excavation and preservation of this national landmark.
While you are in the area why not spend a day learning about the fascinating natural history and these great creatures which once roamed our land.