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Contractor Unearths Mammoth Fossils in Florida

Mon August 29, 2005 - Southeast Edition
Jeff Cronin



Construction crews tend to run into problems during the course of a project.

This one was mammoth.

While digging a trench for sanitary sewer lines for Palma Sola Trace, a 104-acre housing development in Bradenton, FL, a backhoe operator for Westra Construction uncovered the fossil of a Columbian mammoth, a huge creature that roamed the Sunshine State 10,000 to 12,000 years ago.

Mike Miller, land development manager of Taylor Woodrow said workers had placed the pipe in the trench and began to backfill it when the discovery was made. They were picking out pieces of cap rock from the fill and noticed the giant bones.

They stopped the machinery and looked around for more signs of fossils, finding a few more outside the perimeter of the trench box.

The crew completed backfilling over the pipe after ensuring the area was cleared of ancient treasures and called Miller, who was in Tampa.

“You have to come down here,” the worker said, purposely not giving many details.

Immediately, Miller thought someone had been injured while on the job. But after ensuring everyone was safe, Miller’s questions were still being dodged.

He thought they may have found human remains.

“How about we bring it up there in the truck,” the crew member asked.

Not wanting to break any laws by transporting a dead body, Miller rejected the idea.

“They just kept playing games with me,” he said.

Finally, they told Miller they had found what looked like the bones of a very large mammal or a dinosaur.

Miller said he felt confident they wouldn’t have to stop work at all, as the remains weren’t human and there were no signs of American Indian artifacts.

Westra crews continued with the sewer line, but flagged off a 60-by-50-ft. area for a paleontologist to excavate further.

In total, the site produced a 6-ft. tusk, a 4-ft. femur and a jawbone, as well as some smaller bones. Standing approximately 14 ft. at the shoulder, the Columbian mammoth weighed 8 to 10 tons.

Dating to the Pleistocene era, the bones represent 20 percent of the entire mammoth. Suzanne White, the South Florida Museum’s curator of collections, said the small percentage of bones means the mammoth likely didn’t die at that site. They were likely separated by shifts in the earth and water currents.

“We were excited to make such a discovery before these bones were destroyed,” said Shad Tome, president of Taylor Woodrow’s central Florida division. “As soon as it became obvious what we had, we contacted several state agencies and the museum to help us preserve part of Florida’s natural history.”

The bones will be on display at the museum, a nearby elementary school and possible at the development’=s clubhouse when it opens. CEG