The Mammoths of Texas

by Patti Tuck

On July 10, 2015, President Obama signed an Executive Order designating the Waco Mammoth National Monument!

A new national park in Texas and it is just down the road! The Waco Mammoth site “possesses exceptional value or quality in illustrating a natural theme for scientific study and retains a high degree of integrity as a true an accurate unspoiled example of the resource.”   So what is a mammoth and what makes it a resource for study?

Woolly mammoths are extinct relatives of today’s elephants. The species found in Texas is the Columbian Mammoth, Mammuthus columbi. The Columbian mammoth is a distant cousin to the Woolly mammoth which dominated the northern part of North America and Asia close to the glacial ice that covered the northern parts of the continent. The Columbian mammoth had less hair and while found in several areas of North American tended to head away from the glaciated regions. The term mammoth means huge and the Columbian Mammoths were no exception reaching up to 13 feet tall and weighing in around 10 tons. Their spiral tusks could reach up to 14 feet in length.

The Columbian mammoth were herbivores and grazed throughout the open grasslands of north and central Texas. They coexisted with humans until 11,700 years ago when the mammoth died out. Several reasons have been postulated for their extinction including climate change, over hunting by humans and disease. Climate change and ecosystem stability have been cited as the main causes.

The demise of our Waco mammoths has been the subject of extensive research. Most recent studies of sediments and surround rock support flash flood activity. The site in Waco along the Bosque River basin shows sediments formed from rapidly rising waters approximately 65,000 years ago. This was the first of at least three similar events. During this event 19 mammoths from a nursery were trapped and could not escape.

The Heard Museum Paleo Lab has recently acquired a mammoth, Murphy.   Murphy was found along Pin Oak Creek in Central Texas. More information to come!

“It isn’t easy to become a fossil. … Only about one bone in a billion, it is thought, becomes fossilized. If that is so, it means that the complete fossil legacy of all the Americans alive today – that’s 270 million people with 206 bones each – will only be about 50 bones, one-quarter of a complete skeleton. That’s not to say, of course, that any of these bones will ever actually be found.”    Bill Bryson


In A Short History of Nearly Everything (2003), 321-322.


Columbian Mammoth Educator’s Guide. (2014, August 14). Retrieved January 29, 2017, from…/MammothEducatorPacket

(2016, June 14). Wild and Woolly Facts About the Wild and Woolly Mammoth. Retrieved January 30, 2017, from

Woolly Mammoth. (2014, February 28). Retrieved January 30, 2017, from

Woolly Mammoth. (2014, February 28). Retrieved January 30, 2017, from

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