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North Dakota coal miners unearth ancient mammoth fossil, including 7-foot-long tusk: 'Exciting find'

While working earlier this year in North Dakota, a group of coal miners discovered an ancient mammoth fossil, which included a seven-foot-long tusk.

A group of coal miners made a "mammoth" discovery this year while working in North Dakota.

While working overnight at the Freedom Mine during the Memorial Day weekend, the miners uncovered the remains of an ancient mammoth that went extinct in the area roughly 10,000 years ago.

Understanding the importance of the discovery, which came in the early morning hours at the mine located north of Beulah, the miners roped off certain areas and called in the North Dakota Geological Survey (NDGS), the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and the Bureau of Land Management.

Led by paleontologists from the NDGS, a team worked for 12 days to excavate the streambed where the fossil had been preserved for thousands of years, according to a press release this month from the NDGS.


More than 20 bones were recovered from the skeleton, including ribs, a shoulder blade, a tooth, and portions of the hips. But perhaps the most astonishing find was a seven-foot-long mammoth tusk that had been preserved since the Ice Age.

Clint Boyd, a senior paleontologist for the NDGS, told Fox News Digital that the tusk had been scooped up by the miners who were removing heavy rock from the area and placed into the bed of a dump truck.

"So when they dump the dump truck out, the very last thing that came out of the bed of the dump truck that landed right on top of the pile was that full, complete seven-foot-long mammoth tusk," Boyd said.

In an effort to preserve the fossil, Boyd said the team placed the bones into plastic bags to help retain moisture.

"We have all of the materials wrapped up in plastic right now because this Ice Age stuff is what we refer to as subfossils. It's not fully fossilized, there's a lot of organics still in it," Boyd explained. "The sediment is really wet when you first uncover it, and if it dries out too quickly, it'll just kind of crack and split and fall apart and kind of destroy itself."

In order to save the bones, Boyd said the team must soak them in a "special chemical compound" that "takes the water out of the specimen and then replaces it with this slower drying alcohol."

The soaking process to ensure the bones don't become brittle and crumble, Boyd said, could take a few months. "After that's done, then it'll be nice and stable," he said.


Boyd said the mammoth fossil is believed to be "the most complete one" that has ever been discovered in North Dakota and that it's "the first one that's come out of a coal mine."

"You get them out of gravel pits once in a while, but usually just like a bone or two, or like an isolated tooth. For whatever reason, we haven't had a lot of really complete mammoth specimens from North Dakota before, so this was an exciting find," he added.

The NDGS is also working alongside the Freedom Mine as the duo searches for somewhere to put the remains on display for others to see.

"We're looking at places where we could potentially get the specimen on display," Boyd said. "We're talking with the mine, trying to see if there's any place close by up there, maybe in the town of Beulah, which is the nearest town, or someplace like that. If not, then [we're] looking at where we could put it into the state museum here in Bismarck, since we're only a little over an hour away from the mine."

"We'd like to get the fossils back on display as close to the area they came from as possible so that local people can see it and understand, you know, what it was and what else they could find out there," he added.


Mammoths roamed what is now known as North Dakota during the Pleistocene Epoch, more commonly known as the Ice Age. They went extinct in the area around 10,000 years ago, according to the NDGS.

A variety of mammoth species occupied the land of North America, including the Woolly Mammoth and the Columbian Mammoth, which lived among saber-toothed tigers and giant sloths. Once the bones have gone through the cleaning process, paleontologists will be able to identify which species the fossil belonged to.


Boyd said he hopes the rare discovery will lead to others reporting their findings and keeping an eye out for additional fossils in the future.

"Hopefully this, you know, gets everyone to keep their eyes peeled and let us know if they see anything else out there," he said of the discovery.

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