Alaskan mom, son find woolly mammoth tusks 22 years apart
A man who was having little luck catching salmon decided to look for fossils over the weekend and found a woolly mammoth tusk in the same Alaska location where his mother found one 22 years ago.
Andrew Harrelson found the 3.6 metre fossilized tusk on Sunday in a bend of the Fish River near his home village of White Mountain about 100 kilometres east of Nome, the Alaska Dispatch News reported Wednesday.
Harrelson was three in 1992 when his mother, Luann Harrelson, spotted a 36-kilogram mammoth tusk fossil in the muck of the river. His father pulled it from the water and Andrew posed for a picture with it.
"This big, old log-looking thing," he said. "I had no clue what it was until they told me."
Harrelson's father, Daniel Harrelson, said villagers previously found mammoth teeth at the site.
"I think at one point, thousands of years ago, it must have been a mud hole or something that animals got stuck in and then died in it," Daniel Harrelson said. "Everything froze in there and then slowly, over time, thaws out a little bit year by year."
On Sunday, Andrew Harrelson, who now lives in Nome, was fishing with his fiancee and two children in the river. He had caught just one coho salmon in two hours so he decided to look for tusks.
They arrived at the bend where his mother had found the tusk. Almost immediately, Harrelson saw the base of another tusk, covered by a stump. His fiancee, Renee Parker, looked on the other side of the boat and saw the tip of the fossil.
Harrelson drove his family back to White Mountain and returned with a relative. Together, they pried out the fossil. Back at White Mountain, he weighed it on a bathroom scale and it registered 73 kilograms.
Tusks of woolly mammoth range in age from 12,000 to 400,000 years old.
Dale Guthrie, a Quaternary Period paleontologist who retired from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, said the last glacial period in Alaska was about 18,000 years ago. Mainland mammoths died off by about 12,000 years ago, he said.
"The (White Mountain) tusks could be that young or they could be when mammoths first arrived here, which is 300,000 to 400,000 years ago," Guthrie said. "You'd have to radiocarbon date it to see its age."
They can fetch as much as $75 per pound.
Prospective buyers have been calling Harrelson to inquire about the tusk. The couple wants to buy a home in Nome.
"I'm pretty sure he's going to try to use the money for down payment for a house," Daniel Harrelson said.