Hot Springs, South Dakota
Sixty-One and counting – the number of individual mammoths (58 Columbian and 3 woolly) found at this site in Hot Springs, South Dakota. Covered for 26,000 years the first bones were exposed in 1974 as the the land was being excavated for a housing development. Time for Plan B. Today a climate-controlled building covers the massive collection of Ice Age fossils in-situ (left in place, as they were found).
A visit to Mammoth Site starts with a 7-minute video explaining how this occurred. A spring-fed sinkhole became a death trap for mammoths, camels, llamas, giant short-faced bear, wolves, coyotes and more. The sinkhole banks would give way as animals fed around the rim, after falling in they were unable to climb up the steep sides.
Work continues on the “dig”. Jr. and Advanced Paleontology Programs offer hands-on experiences (advanced registration required). Earthwatch and Road Scholar programs provide more intensive volunteer experiences.
The 30-minute tour around the sinkhole is narrated by guides. After the tour visitors can spend more time observing the site or enter the Exhibit Hall featuring full-sized replicas of mammoths.
We found the exhibits and explanations wide ranging and well done. A painting of a giant short-face bear hangs behind the assembled skeleton helping us image meeting the long-gone mammal coming down the trail. No thanks!
I was intrigued with the replica of a mammoth bone house, similar to ones found in the plains of Ukraine, Poland and Czech Republic. Some of the dwellings date to 27,500 years ago, about the same period as activity at the Mammoth Site sinkhole. This replica is constructed of 121 mammoth bone castings including 74 jaws and covered with eight bison hides.
Video, tour, exhibits – we spent twice the amount of time we expected, finding Mammoth Site worth every minute.
When You Go: Mammoth Site – 1800 US18 Bypass, Hot Springs, SD, 605-745-6017, http://mammothsite.com.