Whitehorse Daily Star

Image title

Photo by Whitehorse Star

Spare Ribs - These ribs belonged to a sub-adult mammoth.

Mammoth Bones 12,000 years old - Bones could start a reference collection

It's the bare bones of a beginning, but placer miner Norm Ross hopes the recovery of a mammoth from a claim on Gold Run Creek deposits a good image of the industry in tourism promotions.

By Whitehorse Star on September 3, 1992

Whitehorse Star, Thursday, September 3, 1992

Mammoth Bones 12,000 years old - Bones could start a reference collection

It's the bare bones of a beginning, but placer miner Norm Ross hopes the recovery of a mammoth from a claim on Gold Run Creek deposits a good image of the industry in tourism promotions.

The bones of the sub-adult mammoth were unearthed in early August by Miles Johnson, who was stripping the pit in preparation for mining. The claim, in the Klondike gold fields, is owned by Lyle Gatenby and is being worked by Ross Mining Services.

"It's our desire, if we took the time to stake it out and left the area intact to preserve the animal, we'd like to see them take it a step further and do something with it,” says Ross.

He hopes the bones are used in a display in Dawson City for the public to enjoy, and that the involvement placer miners had in their recovery is noted.

Ross acknowledges that his crew's efforts to preserve the bones and turn them over to the territorial heritage branch contradict industry predictions made in 1991 after the Heritage Act was passed. The feeling at the time was miners would bulldoze bones and artifacts, rather than stop work, enter the tangle of paperwork, and turn over the find.

"We could have done that- two more passes with the backhoe and it would have been gone. But we see it as a responsibility, and we accept that responsibility.” Ross says.

He noted smaller operations might not have the flexibility to stop work and work around a discovery, but hopes his crew's actions stimulate further interest in further recoveries.

These sentiments are echoed by Jeff Hunston, director of the heritage branch.

He describes Ross' and Gatenby's efforts as "excellent.”

And there is already some fallout from the find. While the heritage crew was in the area, other miners on Upper Gold Run Creek turned over a complete lower jaw from a mammoth that was found earlier this summer.

"We rely on the excellent support and co-operation of the mining industry. If they were not mining the basin, we wouldn't be funding this material,” Hunston said.

"In the spring of ‘91 there were a lot of expressions of gloom and doom about the Heritage Act and stop-work orders. It's nonsense. We work with the mining industry, and they are responsible citizens.”

The two sides have come to an agreement that ivory - which is used in jewelry and supports the local retail market - can be disposed of as the finder wishes, and other fossils will go to the heritage branch, he says.

"People see that as a fair trade off”.

When Hunston first heard of the find, he admits, his appetite for a major discovery was "voracious.” He hoped it would be a complete enough skeleton to make a major display of a reconstructed mammoth.

Unfortunately, not enough of the mammoth's bones were at the site for this.

The other alternative is to make a display showing how animals become buried and preserved, the effects of nature on the bones, and how they are recovered.

The bones could also become the beginning of a reference collection for study by researchers, Hunston says. They are being kept in a warehouse to "freeze dry” over the winter and then will be put to use, although just what isn't certain yet.

They are the largest collection from a single animal to be recovered for the territories own museum and purposes. Other large finds have been made, but these went out to American museums or collectors, Hunston adds.

The recovered bones comprise a little over half of the mammoth's skeleton.

The pelvis, some vertebra and ribs are missing.

The skull must be reconstructed, but the pieces are there, as are leg bones and a number of smaller knee bones. Knee bones are often washed away by river action and aren't recovered.

Two sections of spine were unearthed with the vertebra still articulated.

A single molar tooth (there are four in total is as big as a person's head. The femur bone is nearly as tall as Hunston is and weighs about 22 kilograms (50 pounds). The bones fill four large shelves in the branch's warehouse.

Hunston estimates the skeleton is around 12,000 years old. The bones are white and bleached, and haven't taken on colour from a mineralization process, which happens with older remains.

In addition to the mammoth, the bones of a large-horned bison and a small donkey-like horse were found.

The bones and fossils of these and other Ice Age-era animals are found in portions of the Yukon which were never glaciated.

Many mammoths have been found in the area around Dominion Creek, which Gold Run Creek flows into, because of the large size of the valley, says Hunston.

He remains optimistic a complete mammoth skeleton, and perhaps even a complete beast, skin, flesh and hair, will someday be found. The potential for such a discovery exists, because of the permafrost and geography of the area.

The mammoth was uncovered when Johnson was stripping a pit in preparation for mining. A tusk was unearthed first, and Johnson stopped and pulled it out.

On his next pass, he unearthed a large bone, and knew it was a large find. He stopped, and there was a large find.

Work was stopped, shovels were gathered, and about half the large bones recovered were dug out immediately.

"I happened to drive out that afternoon, and all the trucks were off and everyone was standing around with shovels. I thought "What's going on? Did someone lose a watch, or what?” Ross laughs.

Everyone was excited about the find, which Ross describes as the most significant he's seen in 20 years of placer mining. One of the workers on the crew is studying to be a chiropractor, and was identifying the bones as they were uncovered.

Ross put the bones in a damp dark spot to prevent them drying too quickly, and called the property owner. They agreed to call Hunston and get heritage involved.

A four or five day dig ensued, and more bones and pieces were brought out.

The families of the miners participated. One youngster was so impressed with helping bring out a rib bone, he told his father he wants to be a bone digger, not a hoe operator, Ross says.

Be the first to comment

Add your comments or reply via Twitter @whitehorsestar

In order to encourage thoughtful and responsible discussion, website comments will not be visible until a moderator approves them. Please add comments judiciously and refrain from maligning any individual or institution. Read about our user comment and privacy policies.

Your name and email address are required before your comment is posted. Otherwise, your comment will not be posted.