26,000 years ago teenage males were dumb; and they didn’t listen to their mothers. We know this is true because we have proof. What is remarkable is how little has changed over time and among species.
What’s the proof? 59 (and counting) mammoths trapped and eventually fossilized in an area we now call Hot Springs, South Dakota; every single one a teenage male.
How they got there is a story that began tens of thousands of years ago when the area was covered with ice and a 60 foot sinkhole bubbled up with warm spring water. The mammoths, which needed to consume 700 pounds of vegetation per day to support their 9 ton bulk, were drawn to the pond as a source for both food and water.
But instead of offering life-sustaining nourishment, the pond was a deadly trap. Mammoths who entered the water were unable to climb back up the steep and slipery banks and either drowned or died of exhaustion trying to escape. Slowly, over the course of hundreds of years, the pond filled with sediment, burying and preserving those unfortunate animals.
It is believed that older mammoths knew from the smell of decay that the pond was really a trap. Adults stayed clear and mothers successfully kept the very young away. But teenage boys, being what they are, thought they knew better. Their remains are now being unearthed at The Mammoth Site in Hot Springs.
What makes The Mammoth Site so unique is not just that it is an active paleontological dig but that researchers leave the remarkable number of fossils in-situ (as they were found). Seeing artifacts this way is a completely different experience from seeing them reassembled in a museum or in sterile display cases. Instead, visitors feel a bit like Indiana Jones witnessing the excavation of treasures somewhere in the remotest corner of the world. I guess, in a way, they are.
* Illustration courtesy of The Mammoth Site