When farmer James Bristle and his neighbor discovered a "wood-like" object while digging in his Michigan soybean field on Monday, the duo thought they had uncovered something fairly mundane.
"We thought it was a bent fence post," Bristle told the Detroit Free-Press. "It was covered in mud."
But upon closer inspection of the object, it started looking more and more like bone, said the farmer.
"We knew it was something that was out of the norm," he said. "My grandson came over to look at it, he's 5-years-old, he was speechless."
Paleontologists confirmed this week that the discovery, in Washtenaw County's Lima Township, was indeed "out of the norm." The "fence post" Bristle found turned out to be a part of a skeleton of a woolly mammoth that roamed the Earth between 10,000 and 15,000 years ago.
University of Michigan Professor Dan Fisher has been leading the dig to remove the mammoth’s remains from Bristle’s property this week. He told Ann Arbor News that the mammoth was probably 40 years old when it died, and had been hunted by humans who likely butchered it and stashed it in a pond.
"They did that to store meat and come back to it later," he said.
According to Fisher, the discovery represents "one of the more complete sets of woolly mammoth bones ever to be found in the state." Thus far, he and his team have found the mammoth’s pelvis, skull, two "enormous" tusks, both shoulder blades and numerous vertebrae and ribs.
"It’s a pretty exciting day," James Bollinger, a local excavator who has been assisting in the dig, told the Free Press on Thursday. "I’ve been digging for 45 years and I’ve never dug anything up like that."
According to the Associated Press, mammoths and mastodons, another extinct elephant-like creature, were once common in North America. The remains of about 300 mastodons and 30 mammoths have reportedly been discovered in Michigan to date.
Fisher says the newly-unearthed mammoth bones will be examined by researchers. "Study of the bones may shed light on when humans arrived in the Americas, a topic of debate among archaeologists," the AP said.
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