FAIRBANKS, Alaska – Caribou hunters have recovered a 7-foot, 3-inch mammoth tusk from a creek bed south of the village of Anaktuvuk Pass.
Jumping over the creek about a half mile above the John River, Paneak noticed something in the creek's shallow bed.
"At first I thought it was a mushroom," said Paneak.
After he and Morry caught and field-dressed their caribou, they went back to investigate.
"The base of the tusk was sticking straight up and its midsection had moss on it," Paneak said.
The men removed the tusk from the creek bed and carefully transported it to the village of 300 roughly 250 miles northwest of Fairbanks.
"It took two of us to carry it," said Paneak, who estimated the tusk's weight at more than 150 pounds.
The tusk now rests inside Paneak's porch, where it will be scrutinized by scientists while its future is decided.
Still under question is whether the tusk was found within the boundaries of the Gates of the Arctic National Park or on land owned by the Nunamiut Village Corp.
Paneak and park ranger Seth McMillan visited the area Wednesday. McMillan described the site as "an old creek bed, freshly washed out with all the rain this summer."
Gates of the Arctic archaeologist Jeff Rasic said he was eager to view the tusk.
"It would be useful to have it radiocarbon dated," he said. He wants to see if it has been marked.
"I would look for tool marks or cut marks some evidence of it being modified by people," he said.
Paleontologist Paul Matheus of Whitehorse, Yukon, a University of Alaska Fairbanks research associate and former director of the Alaska Quaternary Center, called the tusk an unusual find.
The tusk could be from an older mammoth, dating back 30,000 to 100,000 years ago during a relatively warm period when glaciers had retreated.
The glacier chronology in the Anaktuvuk Pass area has a complex history of advancing and retreating at the end of the Ice Age about 10,000-12,000 years ago, and the tusks also could be from a mammoth of that era.
Mammoths are believed to have become extinct about 10,000 years ago.
A third possibility, Matheus said, is that the tusk was transported to the area by humans either prehistorically or historically.
"That's not unusual," he explained. "You will find old mammoth ivory in archaeological sites because people have been picking up old mammoth ivory for 10,000 years."
Matheus also advised radiocarbon dating the tusk.
"It could reconstruct the glacier history of that area with better precision," he said.