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Strange mammoth skull discovered in California baffles scientists: Experts finds extinct creature has features unlike any of its kind

23:05, Sunday, 25 September, 2016
Strange mammoth skull discovered in California baffles scientists: Experts finds extinct creature has features unlike any of its kind

A unique fossil discovery has baffled scientists as they dig through a California Island looking for clues about human migration and mammoth extinction.
     Deep within centuries of dirt, the team uncovered a well-preserved complete mammoth skull on Santa Rosa Island that they say exhibits features unlike any of its kind.
     The skull is not large enough to be identified as a Columbian mammoth, yet not small enough to qualify as a pygmy - experts hope the creature's fossilized teeth will reveal its true identity.

'This mammoth find is extremely rare and of high scientific importance,' Just Wilkins, a paleontologist at The Mammoth Site in South Dakota, said in a statement.

'It appears to have been on the Channel Islands at the nearly same time as humans.'
     'I have seen a lot of mammoth skulls and this is one of the best preserved I have ever seen.'
     Mammoths roamed North America some two million years ago, with Columbian mammoths appearing a million years later.
     It is believed that the Columbian mammoths migrated to the Channel Islands during the past two ice ages when sea levels were lower and the island land mass was closer to the mainland coast, reports the National Park Service.
     Over time, descendants of the migrants downsized from approximately 14 feet to a six feet tall pygmy form, becoming an endemic species known as Mammuthus exilis.
     The scientific team is particularly curious about the newly-discovered mammoth's tusks.
     The right tusk protrudes 1.4 meters in a coil characteristic of an older mammal, while the shorter, sloped left tusk is more typical of a juvenile.

The man's remains were uncovered in 2006 and is the oldest human skeleton found in North America - it was also discovered on Santa Rosa Island.
     But questions about the species of the mammoth have arisen since the excavation.
     'It doesn't fit the profile for a pygmy mammoth or their relatives on the mainland,' Wilkins told the Ventura County Star, referring to the Columbian mammoth which roamed the continent of North America before migrating to the Channel Islands.

The scientists say the skull is not small enough to definitively qualify it as a pygmy mammoth, which stood at about 6 feet tall (1.8 meters), but also not large enough to identify it as a Columbian mammoth, which could measure up to 14 feet (4.3 meters).
     Dan Muhs, a USGS geologists, suggests the change from a Columbian mammoth down to a pygmy most likely happened over just several thousands of year, which is a relatively short time span for such a drastic change.
     In 2013, Muhs found a pygmy mammoth tusk in a sea stack on the Santa Rosa Island coastline that dated to approximately 80,000 years.

'The discovery of this mammoth skull increases the probability that there were at least two migrations of Columbian mammoths to the island—during the most recent ice age 10-30,000 years ago, as well as the previous glacial period that occurred about 150,000 years ago, he said.
     During his geologic investigations on the island's marine terraces, Muhs also detected and recorded mammoth footprints, another rare find.
     National park officials say the team hopes to find answers in its fossilized teeth, which could determine the mammoth's age before death and clarify whether it is a pygmy, Columbian, or less likely, a transitional mammoth species.
     The fossil will be transported by helicopter and boat to the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, where it will be preserved, studied and curated for the public.

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