Mammoth Questions at Wis. Museum

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The mammoth that has served as the Kenosha Public Museum's mascot for years may actually be a Jefferson's mammoth rather than a woolly mammoth as has been believed for years, according to a new analysis.

At least that is the tentative conclusion drawn by Dan Joyce, senior curator of research and collections at the Kenosha museum, and Jeff Saunders, a paleontologist at the Illinois State Museum.

The mammoth was excavated in 1964 and Joyce decided in 2000 to re-examine it with new archaeological and geological techniques.

"Basically, if we're calling this guy a woolly mammoth," then the pollen data examined indicates it was a long way from home, Joyce said.

Woollies "usually occupy treeless tundra. And that's not the environment we had here. We had spruce parkland here, a clue that we have something different going on," he said.

Joyce and Saunders also found physical differences between the museum's so-called Schaefer Mammoth exhibit and woolly mammoths.

"Woolly mammoths are short and squat," Joyce said. "They generally stand about 10 feet at the shoulder," in contrast with the other well-known North American mammoth, the Columbian, which stood 14 feet at the shoulder.

The museum's mammoth is somewhere in between, leading Saunders, a mammoth expert, to believe the prehistoric elephant is neither woolly nor Columbian, but a Jefferson's mammoth.

However, "there are some who might say this is an aberrant Columbian," Saunders said.

"Then there are those waffling paleontologists who'll give it a subspecies name: Mammuts columbi jeffersoni," he said.

Larry Agenbroad, director of the Mammoth Site of Hot Springs, S.D., said most mammoth experts, including himself, consider Schaefer to be a northern variant of the Columbian mammoth.

Northern variants of many species are often shorter and stouter than their southern comrades, he said.

Dan Fisher, a mammoth expert at the University of Michigan, said there is also a possibility that Schaefer is actually a mix of the woolly and Columbian.

Paula Touhey, director of the Kenosha museum, said no changes would be made regarding the facility's mammoth until the new research was confirmed.