Ancient bones turned over to the state this month are solid evidence a carnivore shared a boggy grave with the famous Huntington mountain mammoth.
During a recent lecture, state paleontologist David Gillette showed additional remains a private citizen collected at the site, indicating yet another species lived longer and at higher altitudes in Utah than it was believed to have survived elsewhere in North America.Gillette showed an upper jaw with an incisor, a canine, other teeth and the palate of the bear species arctodus that were turned in to his office a week ago.
"This is called a short-faced bear," he said. "It's one-third again as large as the largest grizzly."
Gillette's lecture was first in a series sponsored by the new Dan O'Laurie Museum on the theme, "Survival Through Time in Canyonlands." Nov. 30 a Denver archaeologist will discuss use of tree bark in ancient Indian diets.
The weekly presentations, partly funded by the Utah Endowment for the Humanities, end Dec. 21.
Gillette's lecture included a slide show of the excavation of the Columbian mammoth site in Huntington Canyon in the Manti-LaSal mountains.
Gillette had been state paleontologist only three months when a construction company notified his office of a possible find at the site of a dam project near Fairview.
In five days of excavation in August, a recovery team found remains of a bull mammoth that Gillette estimated was 50 to 60 years old when it sank into an ancient bog left by retreating glaciers at 9,000 feet.
Gillette said mammoths finds are usually around 7,200 feet.
"To have found a mammoth at this elevation was astounding. I was bewildered," he said.
Three species of mammoths grazed North America in the Pleistocene era. The Columbian mammoth in Utah was not believed to have hair like a wooly mammoth - but hair specimens preserved in the Huntington bog showed the latest specimen had hair three inches long, Gillette said.
"The main bodies of vertebrae were still articulated, which is quite remarkable to find. It was as though it had been refrigerated 10,000 years. It was so fresh, in fact, we could still smell rotting meat at one place," he said. "I believe we had meat in hand, and we found fur; also, part of the stomach contents."
Analysis since excavation indicates the animal died a natural but pathetic death, Gillette said.
Among other things, it had one foot tangled underneath its pelvis, its salivary glands had calcified, it had a severe and extensive bone disease that limited mobility, and contents of the stomach indicated the grass-eating animal had been forced to browse on trees.
"There were a lot of pine needles in the stomach. Perhaps it was feeding on anything it could find. Maybe it was so emaciated when it got in the bog, it couldn't get out - that's a possible scenario - or possibly it went through the ice," Gillette said.
"We've got an old individual that had terrible problems with arthritis, one of its legs was broken, it had a terrible time feeding, a belly full of needles, and it probably got caught in the muck and mud and couldn't get out," he said.
"We felt as though this poor thing had had a hard time, and it brought tears to some people's eyes."
Now, Gillette said, it appears the animal also had to contend with a hungry bear.
"I'm guessing arctodus was feeding on our poor, dear mammoth. Perhaps it delivered the final blow," he said.
Gillette said he had heard "whispers" that bones of another animal were collected at the site, but no one produced evidence until a week ago.
He credited Castle Dale resident Jon Judd with persuading a woman who remains anonymous into relinquishing the bones, which had been kept in a refrigerator. They were still moist, he said, but "ready to go into 500 pieces" from improper handling.
Although it is illegal to collect on federal land, Gillette said the woman deserves recognition because of the unusual find. "We can turn the other cheek and make sure she gets proper credit," he said.
"Arctodus is known only from a few bones in Utah, from the legs. Getting this specimen really substantiates existence of arctodus," he said.