Unearthing history Mammoths on the Channel Islands

150,000 years ago: During the past two ice ages, researchers believe Columbian mammoths swam to the Channel Islands.

Juan Carlo/The Star

Back then, sea level was lower, and the four northern islands were one large land mass located much closer to the mainland.

Dan Muhs/U.S. Geological Survey

Good swimmers, the mammoths likely sniffed out vegetation on the island.

Juan Carlo/The Star

Once there, the population grew and sea levels rose, leaving the mammoths little incentive to leave or stay big.

A much smaller mammoth emerged, now known as the Channel Islands pygmy mammoth. Researchers said that evolution could have happened in just several thousand years.

Photos: Dan Muhs/USGS & National Park Service.

For more than 150 years, people have uncovered clues about the mammoths and their lives on the islands.

  • 1959: Human remains were found on Santa Rosa Island that were about 13,000 years old. The Arlington Man is believed to be the oldest human skeletal remains found in North America.
  • 1994: A nearly complete skeleton was excavated on Santa Rosa Island. One of the earliest pygmy mammoth fossils, it dated back about 12,900 years.
  • 2013: The oldest, well-dated pygmy mammoth found on the Channel Islands also was discovered on Santa Rosa. The tusk was about 80,000 years old.
  • 2014: A mammoth tusk was spotted in a canyon wall on Santa Rosa Island. During the excavation in September 2016, a team said the tusks and a complete skull seemed bigger than a pygmy but smaller than Columbian.
Source: Channel Islands National Park. Photos by Juan Carlo/The Star.

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