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New Woolly Mammoth Skeleton Displayed In Milwaukee Museum

July 9, 2008

The Milwaukee Public Museum unveiled a woolly mammoth skeleton presumed to be some 14,500 years old, giving locals a chance to view one of the most intact specimens ever discovered in North America.

The Hebior mammoth is missing only a rib and a few bones, but is otherwise nearly whole, making it one of the few specimens to be uncovered so intact.

The woolly mammoth is more than twice the height of a person and it is among only three discovered with scientific significance for southern Wisconsin.

Scientists are unclear as to whether the mammoth had been hunted or died from some other cause. They say, besides evidence of arthritis in its feet, little else is known about the male specimen.

“Small gouges on the bones suggest the meat was scraped off with human tools, meaning people lived in the Upper Midwest at least 1,000 years earlier than previously believed,” said Carter Lupton, vice president of museum programs.

Lupton believes it could have been the Clovis tribe, which had been known to be in the area 13,000 years ago. “These butcher marks indicate human activity, which means there were humans in Wisconsin more than 14,000 years ago.”

Similar butcher marks found on two other mammoths in the area support that theory, although anthropologists are still debating whether the earlier peoples were Clovis or part of some previously unknown tribe.

The mammoth may have become frozen in a glacier and had its meat scraped off after it thawed 1,000 years later.

But anthropologist David Overstreet, who helped excavate the fossils from cornfields in southeastern Wisconsin, discounts that idea.
 
“Siberian mammoths have been found with their skin and hides intact, but the meat underwent chemical changes that render it black and leathery – virtually inedible,” said Overstreet.

“There would be no reason for people to try to eat it,” he said. “I think the freezer burn would be a little bit extreme.”

This is the first woolly mammoth for the Milwaukee museum, which already had skeletons of a mastodon and Chinese elephant.

The mammoth is named for John and Theresa Hebior, who own the fields where the bones were found in the 1960s and excavated in 1994. The Hebiors spent years trying to find a buyer for the fossils, but museums and universities were too cash-strapped to pay the six-figure asking price.

Eventually, John J. Brander and Christine Rundblad, two benefactors from Milwaukee, bought the fossils last year and donated them to the museum. John Hebior says they paid more than $100,000.

A number of fiberglass replicas have been made to publicly show the mammoth, as the real bones are too fragile for display and are being preserved for research in Milwaukee.

Other woolly mammoth replicas are on display in museums in Kenosha and elsewhere.

Image Courtesy Milwaukee Public Museum

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