OTTUMWA — After two summers full of discovery at the Mahaska County mammoth excavation site, the research team is readying for its third season.
Native Ottumwan Sarah Horgen, education and outreach coordinator for the University of Iowa’s National History Museum and a 1998 Ottumwa High School graduate, was in town Tuesday to give an educational presentation about mammoths and an update on the project at the Reminisce Society meeting at the Ottumwa Public Library.
“My job is education,” Horgen said. “Part of my job is to go around the state teaching. I’m from Ottumwa, so whenever someone from here wants me to present, I will.”
In her presentation, Horgen said the mammoth remains found in Mahaska County come from the last ice age, which ended around 10,000 years ago. The Des Moines area was as far south as the glaciers went during that ice age, she said, and everywhere else in Iowa was generally open prairie with a winter-like climate, perfect for mammoths.
Several species of animals that went extinct right after the last ice age, such as mammoths, would have been found in high numbers across the state. Dire wolves, North American horses, mastodons, bison, giant sloths, caribou, giant beaver, muskox and even camels were natives of the land back then.
“There were some very strange creatures running around,” Horgen said in her presentation.
Within a 1,000-2,000 year time frame, however, a high number of the animal species that would have been found in Iowa either went extinct or migrated away. That is why excavation sites like the one in Mahaska County are so valuable, Horgen said, so we can try to understand why they left or died.
The mammoth remains in Mahaska County were first discovered in 2010, when a farmer was merely enjoying a walk with his son when the two noticed a strange item poking out of a river bank. That item turned out to be the femur bone from a mammoth’s leg, and the farmer quickly contacted the University of Iowa to share his findings.