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Mammoths on Santa Rosa Island

From 1948 through the late 1960s, the curator of geology and archaeology from the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, Phil c. Orr, collected more than 200 parts of approximately 50 mammoths - both pygmies and the full sized mammoths from which they presumably evolved. The larger animals are called Mammuthus Columbi or Elphus Imperator, standing up to 14 feet tall. They evolved into a five to six foot pygmy mammoth known as a Mammuthus exilis. Robert Breunig, past Director of the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History suggests that " … these huge shaggy beasts with their sensitive probiscidean trunks swam out to Santarosea … evolutionary downsizing may have resulted from a limited food supply, giving smaller animals a selective advantage. And in the absence of mainland predators, such as wolves, a larger body size lost its value for defense.

Phil Orr created waves in the scientific community. He dated the arrival of humans to the islands much earlier than had been previously thought, and suggested that mammoths and humans may have shared the islands together, and that it is possible humans hunted them to extinction. Some years later, Mr. Orr’s suggestions that there was early human life on the islands than had been thought, were confirmed. There is still no firm evidence of the co-existence of humans and mammoths on the islands, but it has been recorded that 5,000 years ago there were humans hunting mammoths in the far north of the Americas, so in time, Mr. Orr’s other hypothesis may prove correct. He did find sites where there were burned mammoth bones 9 possibly in a human fire ), and where stone artifacts - possibly stone tools - were found in the vicinity of mammoth bones.

Dr. Breunig recalls that " in the summer of 1994 the most complete pygmy mammoth specimen found on the Channel Islands emerged from a crumbling cliff on Santa Rosa Island. Ninety five present of the skeleton was there, minus only a single tusk and a few toe bones. Incredibly, the animal was fully articulated, wit the bones lying in place, arranged just as they were when he animal died. " Discovered by geologist Tom Rockwell and graduate student Kevin Colson of San Diego State University, Rockwell glanced up a cliff in the marine terraces they were surveying. He recalls " I saw the entire spinal column, from the back of the skull to the pelvis, eroding out of a Pleistocene sand dune. " They had discovered the most complete skeleton of a pygmy mammoth ever found. Up until this discovery, scientists had been examining individual bones to assess what a pygmy mammoth was like, and here was an amazing opportunity to see the animal virtually intact. By examining the soil around the bones, scientists dated the skeleton to be from 25,000 to 120,000 years old.