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Farmer digs up woolly mammoth bones in soybean field

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Farmer digs up woolly mammoth bones in soybean field

Farmers digging in a Michigan field were shocked to discover what turned out to be woolly mammoth bones eight feet under the surface.

After a full day of digging through a soybean field near Chelsea, Mich., researchers at the University of Michigan confirmed a farmer’s fairly unusual discovery: a large set of bones belonging to a woolly mammoth.

The find Thursday afternoon represents one of the more complete sets of woolly mammoth bones to ever be found in the state, said Dan Fisher, a professor at the University of Michigan and the director of the Museum of Paleontology.

“It’s a pretty exciting day,” James Bollinger, an excavator and local resident who lent his services to the dig, told the Free Press Thursday. “I’ve been digging for 45 years and I’ve never dug anything up like that.”

The bones were first discovered on Monday, in what amounted to pure accident. Neighbors Trent Satterthwaite and James Bristle, both farmers, were on Bristle’s farm on Scio Church Road in Lima Township, working to drain water from part of the field.

They had dug about 8 feet deep when a wood-like substance started to appear. Pretty soon they realized the wood was actually bone.

“I think we just found a dinosaur or something,” Satterthwaite recalled joking with Bristle.

They then contacted the University of Michigan, which referred them to Fisher.

In an unusual twist, Fisher said Bristle gave him one day to dig on his land, because of a tight farming schedule tied to the harvest. Bristle could not be reached for comment Thursday.

So on Thursday morning, a wild one-day digging sprint ensued.

About 15 people from the university arrived with several others showing up to observe. Satterthwaite and a local excavator, James Bollinger, lent their help with some heavy equipment.

Together, they uncovered a surprising 20% or so of the woolly mammoth’s skeleton. There was the head and tusks, several ribs, a set of vertebrae, and more.

While there have been about 30 woolly mammoths found in Michigan, only five or fewer have been uncovered so extensively, Fisher said.

“We didn’t stop to eat or drink,” he added. “It was a hard, hard day of work, but every bit worth it.”

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