Boys will be boys

Mammoth Site, Hot Springs South Dakota

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.

Didn’t mother warn you not to go swimming on a full stomach?*

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

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46 Comments on “Boys will be boys”

  1. Alexandra November 9, 2011 at 11:24 am #

    Poor mammoths 😦


    • Brian November 9, 2011 at 4:53 pm #

      It is quite sad. There are so many that got trapped in the pit, they don’t even know yet how many are in there.


  2. Natalie November 9, 2011 at 11:41 am #

    I wish mammoths still roamed America. We have a mammoth exhibit near us (at Wheaton College) that we visit often, just to ponder the great fellow. He also fell into a hazardous swampy area and couldn’t escape. We call him Perry.


    • Brian November 9, 2011 at 4:55 pm #

      That would be neat. The kind that are at the Mammoth Site are even bigger than the whollies. They say today’s elephants could walk right underneath the chin of these beasties. Pretty amazing.


  3. Debbie Young November 9, 2011 at 12:27 pm #

    That’s a sad but cute tale. Just shows that size isn’t everything! Thanks for sharing!


    • Brian November 9, 2011 at 4:59 pm #

      True. I think in the mammoth’s case, size ended up being a detriment.


  4. earthriderjudyberman November 9, 2011 at 3:34 pm #

    Something to think about: Mama was right. Thanks for the historical information, place to visit and photo.


    • Brian November 9, 2011 at 4:55 pm #

      Certainly in this case she was.


  5. grant November 9, 2011 at 4:37 pm #

    This reminds me of another other blog post about a teenage boy unsuccessfully attempting to conquer a massive sand dune near the Great Lakes… and then vomiting.


    • Brian November 9, 2011 at 4:57 pm #

      Hadn’t thought of that, but you’re right. Dumb-ass teenage antics is becoming an unintentional minor theme here.


  6. everythingbutkimchi November 10, 2011 at 7:46 am #

    Amazing blog, and amazing couple. Hopefully my husband and I will be as cool as you guys one day.


    • Brian November 10, 2011 at 8:23 am #

      We think you’re plenty cool. Thanks for following along!


  7. Cheryl November 10, 2011 at 10:58 am #

    We love Mammoth Site. It is just so cool.Everyone should go there.


  8. Cheryl November 10, 2011 at 11:00 am #

    They are not fossils. That is actual bones according to the tour. We have been there several times.


    • Brian November 10, 2011 at 11:07 am #

      Yup, we’re aware – but it also seems the word “fossil” is used pretty liberally here. Even the Mammoth Site website describes the dig as “Ice Age fossils exhibited as they were unearthed.” If Mammoth Site describes itself that way, we felt okay using the word fossil too, even though it isn’t scientifically accurate.


  9. Tin Roof Press November 11, 2011 at 6:03 am #

    what silly boys. poor fellows


  10. cp November 11, 2011 at 9:53 am #

    I love this! I teach all boys!!!


  11. Suzy November 13, 2011 at 8:40 pm #

    Haha! How funny teenaged male mammoths thought they were invincible.


  12. flygurlual November 30, 2011 at 5:54 pm #

    Great post, Brian!
    Although it is sad, I must agree, “teenage boys haven’t changed.” It is amazing that I could see the distinct differences between my son and my daughter’s personalities, from birth.
    And I am using your post, as a teaching tool with my 13 yr old son. I will remind him, as he’s headed toward that murky water, “Remember the mammoths!”


    • Brian November 30, 2011 at 10:08 pm #

      Brilliant idea! “Remember the mammoths”


  13. mylittleponderings December 6, 2011 at 9:12 am #

    Adore this!! Haha very amusing 🙂


  14. nancycurteman December 6, 2011 at 11:31 pm #

    Hi Brian,
    Thanks for clicking “Like” on my Global Mysteries posting about the Li River. Wow, you and Shannon are doing what most of us dream of doing: having a global travel adventure. Have a wonderful time and keep in touch.


  15. bucketdave August 21, 2012 at 10:06 am #

    This is too funny, although a little sad for the mammoths. I’m sure nothing like that could never happen to me though…


    • bucketdave August 21, 2012 at 10:07 am #

      Wait, I confused myself with my own reply. I meant to say “I’m sure nothing like that could ever happen to me…” Ha ha!


  16. Ron Scubadiver November 18, 2012 at 12:21 pm #



  17. bodhisattvaintraining November 25, 2012 at 12:51 am #

    amazing! thanks..


  18. sodaglass December 5, 2012 at 7:56 am #

    very interesting. thanks!


  19. keegan December 13, 2012 at 1:53 pm #



  20. Mazigrace December 16, 2012 at 1:17 pm #

    Amazing! Whodathunk?
    You have an amazing life! I want to be like you when I grow up.


  21. Kristin Anderson December 18, 2012 at 12:05 am #

    I have a little boy. This is a good warning to what lies ahead!


  22. amoralegria December 28, 2012 at 5:13 pm #

    Fascinating! I would add “young adult males” to this warning – my son is often on the brink of a pit of quicksand!


  23. John December 29, 2012 at 7:57 pm #



  24. sodaglass January 8, 2013 at 4:06 am #

    enjoy reading your blog and so thought would pass some of that appreciation along by nominating you for the “sisterhood of the world bloggers award”. if you are interested, more details here:


  25. kellig January 13, 2013 at 9:59 pm #

    it’s a very sad thing, but if it hadn’t happened, you wouldn’t be able to see it today. that is my attempt to put a positive spin on it, lol. thanks for visiting my blog, love your blog. i can visit places vicariously thru the two of you =)


  26. flbalance January 22, 2013 at 2:17 pm #

    Just found your blog and this was the first article I read. Great opening! Now Hot Springs is on my must-visit list.


  27. shoestringtom January 25, 2013 at 8:47 am #

    great blog but it makes you wonder what the female teenage mammoths were doing at the same time hmm …. oh and thanx for visiting my blog 🙂


  28. cyclingrandma January 25, 2013 at 10:14 am #

    Thanks for liking my Davos post.


  29. photobycraig January 28, 2013 at 12:16 pm #

    Teenage boys will NEVER listen! No matter how long our species is here on earth!

    Thanks for stopping by my blog! Much appreciated!


  30. sosparkly May 1, 2013 at 8:17 pm #

    Boys will be fossilized boys…good post!


  31. Barbara Stanley May 22, 2013 at 10:43 pm #

    I really enjoy your tales. I also learn quite a bit, also. I noticed a typo and if you are anything like me, you just have to fix it. Or, maybe it is just me and the fact that I graded a few papers in my day. ” But teenage boys, being what they are, thought they new better.” I have another problem when I type. Sometimes, I type so fast that my finger doesn’t touch the key when I thought that it had. Anyway, I knew you meant to type ‘knew.’


    • Brian May 23, 2013 at 2:11 am #

      Wow. That’s been like that for about a year and a half. I’ve probably read this post a dozen times and never saw it. Strange how the mind see what it wants to see.


  32. camcope June 15, 2013 at 1:56 am #

    Hey interesting post! You’ll have to come to Australia and see our gigantic Wombat and Kangaroo fossils some time 😉 And thanks for the liking my West Africa post recently. Cheers.


  33. Expat Eye June 28, 2013 at 6:35 pm #

    Dun dun dun dun, dun duh duh – damn, now I’ve got the Indiana Jones theme tune in my head 😉 Thanks for liking my post! Linda.


  34. mflahertyphoto July 6, 2013 at 3:34 pm #

    Fascinating. Not sure whether the theory of their demise is the only one possible. When I was in Africa a couple years ago it was near the end of the dry season. I visited a place called Savute where elephants had been coming from hundreds of miles around to get to the only water. They were so thirsty they drank a lot when they got there. There was an unusual number of dead elephants around, which drew a lot of scavengers. Thing is, they were all juveniles. A long-time guide told me he thought it was because they drank too much water. I told him he was a very smart guide. The older elephants knew better than to over-drink and they kept their babies from doing it. The juveniles didn’t have a clue. We can also die from drinking too much water. It’s called hyponatremia. So that could be what happened repeatedly at that lake.


    • Brian July 6, 2013 at 7:13 pm #

      Food for thought. I think these mammoths were found inside the spring, though, which suggest that they drowned. In either case, it wouldn’t change the fact that only teenage boys ended up meeting their demise at that site. Both the elder males and females of all ages avoided what ever trap once laid there.


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