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Mammoth remains found near Buffalo Bill Reservoir

Possible theft investigated by Bureau of Reclamation


April 20, 2018

POWELL (WNE) – Federal law enforcement agents and officials have secured a site at the Buffalo Bill Reservoir to protect skeletal remains attributed to an ancient a mammoth, declared by one University of Wyoming scientist as “a very important discovery.”

The site west of Cody is on Bureau of Reclamation land, and the Bureau of Land Management is assisting with security.

“We don’t have a huge amount of mammoth finds in Wyoming. It’s a very important discovery,” said UW paleobiology Professor Mark Clementz.

Rural Cody resident Todd Legler found the mammoth remains while hiking in the area on Tuesday.

UW archaeologist and anthropologist Marcel Kornfeld said university scientists are talking with the Bureau of Reclamation on how to save the exposed portion of the skeleton. “There is no doubt in my mind that it’s a mammoth, Kornfeld said Wednesday. “It will be important to determine what is there and what is below the surface as soon as possible.”

Officials want to figure out logistics quickly because the area will soon be submerged with snowmelt. A team of state and UW representatives, including Wyoming state archaeologist Greg Pierce, are working on the project, but it’s up to the Bureau of Reclamation to decide how to proceed, Clemntz said.

“It’s eroding away pretty fast,” Clementz said of the site. “A large number of volunteers and manpower could it do it faster.”

A genetic test will be performed. The exposed remains include partially articulated vertebral column and dorsal spines, as well as at least one tooth. They are believed to be from a Columbian mammoth, a species that went extinct at the end of the ice age.

In a press release Thursday, the Bureau of Reclamation Office in Mills received reports of possible pre-historic mammal remains being located and possibly stolen on Reclamation land near Cody on Tuesday, April 17. The fossil remains are believed to be from a mammoth and include rib elements, vertebral elements, and a number of other bones.

“The site was located, and based on interviews, Reclamation’s special agent determined the site may have been disturbed prior to being reported to Reclamation,” Wyoming Area Manager Carlie Ronca said. “Law enforcement is currently working with the resource staff to assess the damage to the site.”

Under the Paleontological Resources Preservation Act, federal agencies are required to manage paleontological resources located on federal land. Criminal and civil penalties can be applied for unauthorized collection of fossils and vandalism.

Fossils are non-renewable and (except for microfossils and those that make up the energy minerals) relatively rare resources with significant scientific, educational, commercial, and recreational values. 

Collection of fossils are not permitted on Reclamation land.


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