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Lake Site Could Be Largest Accumulation of Mammoths

Lake Site Could Be Largest Accumulation Of Mammoths

POCATELLO, Idaho (AP) - The bed of northern Idaho's Tolo Lake near Grangeville
could be the largest single accumulation of mammoth remains in North America, a
scientist says.

William Akersten, curator of vertebrate paleontology with the Idaho Museum of
Natural History at Idaho State University, and colleagues are working on the
mammoth find.

Last month, a bulldozer excavating Tolo Lake, a shallow lake six miles southwest
of Grangeville, turned over what was thought to be a large piece of petrified
wood. It turned out to be bone.

Akersten and Allen Tedrow, fossil preparer at the Idaho Museum of Natural
History at ISU, set aside other projects and traveled to north Idaho.

They collected bones and to date have gathered bones from at least three
mammoths, including what appears to be a complete skeleton. There are remains of
at least three or four mammoths.

The paleontologists returned to the museum in Pocatello with about 20 bones,
including an upper foreleg and foot bones, and ribs. Many more were left at the
site, to be collected next summer.

Akersten said there could be hundreds of other fossils in the 30-acre lake bed.
He said at Mammoth Hot Springs in South Dakota, considered the largest
concentration of mammoth bones in North America, about 50 mammoths have been
excavated from a half-acre site since 1974.

Paleontologists speculate there may be at least twice that many at Tolo Lake.
The mammoths there would have lived in the area during the Pleistocene or Ice
Age, which began two million years ago and ended about 10,000 years ago. The
bones have been sent to an outside laboratory for carbon-14 dating.

Akersten said drought could have concentrated animals around the lake or sick
and injured animals gathered at the water hole over time, where they died and
carnivores fed on them.

One nearly complete skeleton appears to have died in the mud or some distance
from shore. Parts of another were found scattered across a boulder bed, which
may mark an old shoreline.

The lake has been prepared for winter by covering the site with heavy plastic
and flooding it to a depth where the bones will not freeze.

The Idaho State researchers hope to start intensive excavation next summer, but
Akersten said most of the bones will be left at the site. That will allow future
researchers to gather more information.